Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, this book has always been on my vague to-be-read list. Now and then, I think I want to read all the Pulitzer winne...moreWinning the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, this book has always been on my vague to-be-read list. Now and then, I think I want to read all the Pulitzer winners, or fiction from the early 20th century, etc. etc. so I was excited to be part of the blog tour for this release. Somehow, I've managed to not only never read this book but also never see any of the film or t.v. versions, so I was really unsure of what I was getting into -- but I immediately loved Tarkington's writing from the first chapter.
The story follows first Isabel Amberson, who falls for -- but doesn't end up with -- Eugene Morgan, and later, Isabel's son Georgie, who falls for Eugene's daughter Lucy. From the start, I was captured -- I was reminded of golden era, 'perfect family' fictions like Meet Me in St. Louis -- as well as more dark explorations of families and the rise and fall of fortunes, like Margaret Oliphant, Anthony Trollope, The Forsyte Saga, and Jennifer Haigh. Tarkington's writing style seems a bit ornate, but there's a sly, sarcastic humor in his writing that had me constantly snortling and chuckling. He paints the affluent suburb where the Ambersons reign, capturing that tumultuous era of horse-and-carriage and early automobiles, of industry and agriculture, and the slightly shifting mores of late 19th century and early 20th century. In some ways, this is more than just a family saga, but an exploration of technology and industry and the impact on society.
Unsurprisingly, I was fonder of the women in this story than the men; darling Georgie, frankly, was so aggravating I could have done without him, but I adored the women in his life, from his mother Isabel, aunt Fanny, and love interest, Lucy. I was less enamored of Georgie's romance with Lucy but as I felt rather affectionate toward his family, I wanted badly to see how things would end up for him and his mother -- and the ending gave me a little twist in my chest. At about 270ish pages, this isn't a long read, but there's enough there to fall in love with this fussy, delusional, selfish, and endearing family. (Also: this is the second book in a trilogy, although I haven't read the first book and I don't think one needs to in order to enjoy this one.)
A comment about this specific e-book edition: I love the font size and formatting! Too often, I find myself having to magnify the text of my e-books to, like, one million in order to read easily (especially ones put out by Harper and their imprints), so I was relieved to discover this edition reads easily without magnification. No weird formatting, and I enjoyed the color picture gallery at the end which helped me to visualize the era.(less)
I adored this book. Everything about it: the writing style, the characters, the ludicrous plot, and frenetic mix of romance, slapstick comedy, and mys...moreI adored this book. Everything about it: the writing style, the characters, the ludicrous plot, and frenetic mix of romance, slapstick comedy, and mystery. Written in 1910, this novel features a very broad and comedic portrait of New York society, and it was a delicious escapist read for the weekend.
I'm going to try to describe the plot. Bear with me, because I know how over-the-top it sounds, and it is, but it's also hilarious and amazing and fun. The story is told by Kit McNair, a New York socialite who is rather indignant about her treatment at the hands of her friends following a trying week. The drama begins when her friend and former amour Jim Wilson has a dinner party with other fashionable, rich friends, which is crashed by his rich and old-fashioned Aunt Selina. Aunt Selina is unaware that Jim has divorced, and since she hadn't met his ex-wife Bella, Jim convinces Kit to pretend to be his wife. As if that challenge isn't daunting enough, things really get wild when Jim's butler is discovered to have small pox, the city quarantines the house for a week, and Jim's ex-wife Bella breaks in to the house to steal away Jim's butler, unaware of the quarantine. Amidst all that, there are robberies, a cop discovered sleeping in the basement, reporters stalking the house, and flirtations and hurt feelings galore.
This sounds messy, I know, but Rinehart manages these wildly diverse threads beautifully. Her characters are wry, funny, sarcastic, rude, snobby, ridiculous, and appealing. As a snapshot of Edwardian New York City, it can't be beat, and Rinehart's writing conveys so much in so little. Her characters are clearly the precursors to the '20s flapper era, and I loved this snapshot of early 20th century New York society.
This e-book edition was a treat as well: for one thing, the formatting was great. I love Project Gutenberg and Google Books for public domain reads, but the files don't always display right in my ereader -- in this edition, there's no weird characters or formatting, and the font size was great without my needing to zoom in on anything. There's an extensive gallery of vintage images to help give the reader a sense of the era (which I appreciated, because I did keep envisioning folks as flappers and not Edwardian-ish socialites).
I must disclose that I've started writing content for The Vintage Reader, the blog associated with the Legacy Vintage Collection, but that has in no way affected my opinion of this book. If anything, this book made me more excited about Legacy Vintage's future offerings as I adore vintage fiction and am thrilled to see these forgotten gems available to readers.(less)
I was pretty head-over-heels for this book after the first page but by the time our heroine Bathsheba Everdene appeared, my love was sealed. (How fabu...moreI was pretty head-over-heels for this book after the first page but by the time our heroine Bathsheba Everdene appeared, my love was sealed. (How fabulous is that name?!)
Of this book, Virginia Woolf said: "The subject was right; the method was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the somber reflective man, the man of learning, all enlisted to produce a book which, however fashions may chop and change, must hold its place among the great English novels." Amen, sister. There's a vaguely soap opera feel to the story, with the mix of rural drama (honestly, I had no idea there were so many ways sheep could die!) and a love pentagon (two women, three men) and yet, this isn't some fluffy pastoral farce.
The setting is described with poetic loveliness, but as we see with Farmer Oak's constantly imperiled sheep, rural life is hardly peaceful and bucolic. At times, it is nearly savage, and pretty, clever, fiery, passionate Bathsheba seems to be the personification of the lovely-yet-wild (and fickle!) landscape. She captivates, frightens, and mystifies the men around her, and despite her sometimes over-the-top emotional fits, she manages her own farm and her own courtships with savvy determination.
Still, the romance in this book is hardly romantic: even the passionate points feel a bit grim, as we and the characters understand the implications of each overture and pass. Someone will be hurt, someone else buoyed, and one night makes all the difference in a life. (Same goes for sheep. Go to sleep, sheep alive; wake up, sheep dead. It's crazy.)
There's also some comedy in the rustic townfolk and farm hands, but honestly, I sort of tuned them out. I was more keen on Bathsheba and her relationships with the men in her life. At times, I felt like Hardy painted her a little garishly, as if to punish her for being so fabulous and feisty, but I also appreciated the cracks in her armor. She was a woman I could relate to and if I had read her as a teen, I would have been all about channeling my inner Bathsheba Everdene. As it is, I'm ready for a reread already, so I can sit back and savor Hardy's storytelling.(less)
Did this book make me wish my commute were longer?: YES. Or that I should have no commute and could sit around a read all day.
Did this book require a...moreDid this book make me wish my commute were longer?: YES. Or that I should have no commute and could sit around a read all day.
Did this book require a dictionary?: YES: éclaircissement (the clearing up of anything which is obscure or not easily understood; an explanation), and weirdly enough, retrench, only because I thought I knew what it meant, but decided to double check.
Did I eventually have to quit dog earring any page with a quote I liked because I was going to end up simply retyping the novel?: YES
Review: How do you review Jane Austen if you're not Harold Bloom or Margaret Drabble? I can't even, so I'll discuss this particular edition: Signet Classic (2008), with an introduction by Margaret Drabble (from 1964) and an afterward by Diane Johnson (of Le Mariage/Le Divorce fame).
I feel like I also should come clean and say straight out that Pride & Prejudice is not my favorite Austen (seriously, I don't get the Darcy love). My favorite Austen is Northanger Abbey. I cut my teeth on Gothics like Mysteries of Udolpho and have always felt rather affectionately toward Catherine Morland. After that, Persuasion tops my list. So despite any flaws this book might have in terms of plot or characters, I really love this book.
Diane Johnson's Afterword was an enjoyable addition. As an aspiring novelist, I read for enjoyment -- but also, to learn. Johnson reviews Austen's techniques and highlights her skillful writing. I rather wish it was offered at the beginning -- Johnson's notes inspire a close reading.(less)