Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And what a view it is....

It is amazing to me how much 19th century British literature I've been reading since I came to Thailand. It's even more amazing to me that I'd somehow gotten well into my thirties without having read these books. I'm not at all sure where I got the idea, but I thought they would be dry, dense and difficult to read. Not so at all!

My sister recently sent me her beloved, heavily underlined copy of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View. Technically, it's a 20th century novel... but just barely. In any event, I loved it thoroughly.

Plot: A young girl in Italy, meets the wrong sort of boy, and spends much of the rest of the book ignorant of the fact that she's in love with him.

Motto: When in Rome...

Opinion: My only criticisms of this book are of the beginning and the end. First, six characters are introduced in the first page and a half and I had a tough time getting someone fixed in my brain before someone new was introduced or they started referring to one of them by a different name. But I soldiered on and was well rewarded. The characters were entertaining and aptly named the sweet young protagonist "Miss Honeychurch", the eccentric writer "Miss Lavish" the snobby and judgemental fiance "Mr. Vyse".

The story is propelled by coincidence more so than character development. And more than one expository monologue is used to tell the reader how people are feeling, or how they ought to feel. Particularly in the end, one lecture by Mr. Emerson is enough to settle all things in Lucy's mind and from this we are led a bit abruptly to the Happily Ever After ending.

What I loved about the book was first, the feminist bent "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays [the piano], it will be very exciting - both for us and for her." Forster takes a decidedly plain protagonist and urges her to trust herself and to live beyond the expectations of society around her. The other thing I love are the constant asides from the author to the reader. This book is positively full of quotes that are as true today as they were a hundred years ago.

Miss Bartlett (the spinster cousin) "had worked like a great artist; for a time - indeed, for years -- she had been meaningless, but at the end there was presented to the girl the complete picture of a cheerless, loveless world in which the young rush to destruction until they learn better -- a shamefaced world of precautions and barriers which may avert evil, but which do not seem to bring good, if we may judge from those who have used them most."

"Secrecy has this disadvantage: we lose the sense of proportion; we cannot tell whether our secret is important or not."

"She reflected that it is impossible to foretell the future with any degree of accuracy, that it is impossible to rehearse life. A fault in the scenery, a face in the audience, an irruption of the audience on to the stage, and all our carefully planned gestures mean nothing, or mean too much."

"She gave up trying to understand herself, and joined the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words. The armies are full of pleasant and pious folk. But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters--the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety show cracks, their wit becomes cynicism and their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they
go. They have sinned against Eros and against Pallas Athene, and not by any eavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged."

This is a beautifully beautifully written book. I'd recommend it to travelers, romantics and adventurers alike.

TAG: Code Watermelon

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

I would almost never say this in response to a book review, but -- check out the movie, too. It's... quite charming.