There is probably nothing new that can be said in praise of this book, and I always dig myself into pits when I try to review classics. But wow, does...moreThere is probably nothing new that can be said in praise of this book, and I always dig myself into pits when I try to review classics. But wow, does this book blow my mind every time I read it. Then again, most of Jane Austen's work does that.
Being a sensitive soul (at times) with a tendency towards insomnia, I generally try not to read books that will potentially rile me up before bedtime. And having read this book and seen the movies so many times, I didn't think it had the punch to keep me up stewing over it. Boy was I wrong.
As readers age and revisit old favorites, we pick up something different each read due to our own life experiences. Her brilliancy in parsing people's psychology stands out each and every time, but this time I was especially struck by what I can only call the wisdom of her underlying message. Her main characters, that is, the characters that she has the most sympathy for, learn from each other to emotionally expand, and that happiness comes from growth and not fixed opinions...however light the form of that expression--and you don't get much lighter than romantic comedy--there is a profound truth to that. Yes her novels end at the marriages of her principle protagonists. However, to underline that fact is to overlook that at least in Pride and Prejudice, she has filled the bulk of the story with characters that illustrate the range of marital success and failure. From the obvious example of the mismatched Mr and Mrs Bennett to the likable Gardiners, Austen is telling us from her observer's standpoint that true marital happiness will be there if the couple is equally matched in the capacity for self reflection, forgiveness, and understanding. Jane and Bingley have this at the beginning--their woes come from outside themselves and they ultimately serve as a vehicle on their closest companions to road to self discovery. Reading this now as a married woman, I find that there is meat even for me in it all. Austen is deliberately not telling us the story of star crossed lovers, thrown together by fate and uncontrollably drawn to each other. Elizabeth and Darcy are fully fleshed and flawed people who come to love one another through, get this, getting to know each other better. How brilliantly ordinary when one takes all the drama out of the story. I read a shrewd analysis of Pride and Prejudice today by Susan Morgan. The sum of her critique was that through the events of PnP, we see Elizabeth move from a place where she seeks to distance herself from emotional attachment by finding faults and comedy in others, to a place where she has found a partner to respect and commune with. Not a bad reminder of what to bring into your marriage on a daily basis. (less)
I loved this book when I was in my early 20s. I totally identified with Stella's awkwardness and social ineptitude, laughing and cringing while I read...moreI loved this book when I was in my early 20s. I totally identified with Stella's awkwardness and social ineptitude, laughing and cringing while I read and re-read it. I also loved "Cold Comfort Farm" at the time, which one reviewer has already drawn the parallel to. However, Stella is a poor stand in for the supremely self assured Flora, and Rachel Cusk has yet to stand the test of time that Stella Gibbons has. I have yet to revisit this book as an older and more mature human being. I think I'll put it off a little longer still and enjoy the memory of the book rather than risk fault finding. (less)
This is a quiet watercolor of a book. 'The Summer Book' takes place on a small island in the Gulf of Finland and sketches out scenes from the life of...moreThis is a quiet watercolor of a book. 'The Summer Book' takes place on a small island in the Gulf of Finland and sketches out scenes from the life of Sophia, a bright and tempestuous six year old who has lost her mother, and her paternal grandmother who is watching over her while Sophia's father attends to other matters. While there is no overarching plot excepting Sophia's coping with the death of her mother and her grandmother's graceful drifting towards the end of her own life, each chapter contains a microcosm of a story as the island's inhabitants go about their days. Things are gained and lost, happenings occur that momentarily alter the world of the island's three inhabitants, but in the end, all return to their comfortable equilibrium. 'The Summer Book' is by turns thoughtful, playful, contemplative, angry, sad and beautiful. It is a simple and elegant portrayal of summertime and family without glamor or sentimentality, but still with warmth at its core. I have decided to give it to my own grandmother for her 90th birthday coming up this month, and I hope she will enjoy it as much as I did. (less)