Monday, January 07, 2008

MiddleMarch...Ring for Jeeves....Book Review

by George Eliot.Oxford University Press 1999.Introduction by A.S Byatt.924 pages.
The subtitle "A Study of Provincial Life" gives the reader a hint of what the author was trying to achieve by writing this novel.Its a mixture of sociological,historical and philosophical thoughts.Among other things.Such as small town persecution of strangers and outsiders,gossip and relationships not only between the different classes but between men and women.Of course the concept of marriage is also well traversed as illustrated by the part it plays in the lives of the two main characters Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate.The motivation for getting married be it for money,stability,social standing or security is also examined in the lives of other characters in the book.
I found it a difficult book to read for a number of reasons.First there was an actual physical problem with reading the novel.The actual type is miniscule and it required a lot of concentration just to focus on the sentences in mid page without going cross-eyed.Obvivously not Eliots fault but it did detract from the enjoyment.
Secondly,I found it at times too ponderous.I know its 900 odd pages long but much of the book seems to be taken up with descriptive passages and philosphical tracts that dont advance the story or plot lines. By the mid way point,around 500 pages into it,I had considered giving up but continued on the grounds I had already invested a large chunk of time to it.While Im glad I perserved I would approach reading another Eliot with caution.

Ring for Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse.Sphere Books Ltd 1971 150 pages.
After the three month or so struggle with MiddleMarch I read this much lighter book in three days.Lighter in weight and tone.Maybe more forgettable but probably more enjoyable.
It is however interesting to compare the two books.Both were written in times of great social change.MiddleMarch is set in the time of the Reform Acts and the advent of railways and industrial advances.
Likewise the Wodehouse book is set in the 1950s as one character claims"We are living now in what is known as the Welfare State,which means broadly that everybody is destitute"pg104.
Both authors have a character named "Bulstrode" in their respective novels.The Eliot Bulstrode does however have the more significant role of the two.
Both authors have great descriptive powers particularly Eliot as was noted above."Mr Cadwaller was a large man,with full lips and a sweet smile;very plain and rough in his exterior but with that solid imperturable ease and good humour which is infectious"pg74.Obviously with 900 odd pages at her disposal she can afford to wax lyrical about all kinds of things in some depth.
Not to be outdone and taking into account the much shorter 150 page length I think this Wodehouse description equally good..."Nature in her bounty had bestowed so many pimples that there was scarcely room on his face for the vacant grin which habitually adorned it"pg145.
While I have reservations about attempting another Eliot I have none regarding Wodehouse.No doubt the payoff with reading an Eliot is greater but I feel its much like climbing Mt Fuji.Ive done it once and while parts were enjoyable I cant see much point in repeating the exercise.

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