This was my first reread since I was a young adult, and it produced two somewhat contrary impressions.
The first time I read the book must have been fThis was my first reread since I was a young adult, and it produced two somewhat contrary impressions.
The first time I read the book must have been fairly close in time to seeing the movie, and I recall having little patience for the lovers, even as I was sympathetic to Newland. Despite being boy-crazy as a teenager, fictional romance tended to irritate me, and with my cold-hearted "reasonable" approach to the world I had a hard time reading about people doing foolish things for the sake of love.
With almost two more decades of life under my belt, I've become a far more sentimental reader, and I was much more taken in by the story of doomed and frustrated love. Wharton doesn't describe exactly why they love each other and she doesn't have to; what she does describe well is that feeling of sudden connection that happens sometimes, and all the unspoken communication it entails. The reader can see why they're in love and, in damning detail, why they cannot be together, and easily understand why this story has become a classic.
At the same time, I couldn't help feeling that the shift in focus from social commentary to romance was something of a loss. To me, the first and most obvious comparison of the Adultery Classics is Anna Karenina, because Wharton had some of Tolstoy's deep and generous powers of observation. The opening chapters of the novel were a revelation to me, as Newland dissects every element of his staid and stale culture, especially his perception of the "innocent" women in his milieu.
I understand that the final message of the novel is those women were never as naive as he believed them to be, but it's muddied and softened somewhat by the sensitive but sentimental portrayal of his romance. One has the sense of moving from his clear-headed detachment at the time of his engagement, through a sudden ducking into warm and dangerous waters of romance, emotion, and "real life," and then emerging again for a gasp of air into the "crystalline air" of old New York, but the uneven attention paid to his revelations and state of mind in the latter portion of his life diminishes the social observations at the beginning of the novel.
In short, this feels like two books, and while I enjoyed them both, I'm sorry for the loss of sharper novel of social observation that fades as the story travels into romance. I don't care for the uglier adultery classics, such as Madame Bovary, where the romance is sordid and sad, but as this is the rare one written by a female author, it's sad to lose that glimpse of sharp perspective....more
I first read this book not too long after it came out, around age 11 or so, and have periodically reread it in the last 20 years. Since I first read iI first read this book not too long after it came out, around age 11 or so, and have periodically reread it in the last 20 years. Since I first read it at the end of childhood much of the philosophy was new to me and became integrated into the way I thought about things, along with the humor, so that the author is kind of like another grandfather to me. It's not necessarily brilliant stuff, but it's good, and I'm glad I've had his point of view as part of my life since I was young....more
It's always hard to disentangle love of the story from frustration with the writing on this series, but I'll be generous and err on the side of four sIt's always hard to disentangle love of the story from frustration with the writing on this series, but I'll be generous and err on the side of four stars instead of three. Even if he does make you wade through poetry in actual Elvish....more
Delightful as ever. I do think every edition needs a brief intro giving modern readers a little context, since this is written as a satire of the overDelightful as ever. I do think every edition needs a brief intro giving modern readers a little context, since this is written as a satire of the overwrought sensationalist fiction young ladies read at the time (novels being much more mainstream and low-class than poetry, history, etc -- think the kind of stuff Jo March reads and writes when she's young). Catherine is a realistic character who's constantly being contrasted, tongue in cheek, with the romantic heroine she "ought" to be, and letting her imagination run away with her due to reading too many of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels. Meanwhile, real and serious marriage transacting is taking place all around the innocent Catherine, which Austen uses to show up her innocence and modesty (while still poking a little fun at gender relations and Catherine's conforming to the contemporary ideal of an ignorant, pleasant, malleable woman's mind). The happy romantic ending is still witty and dry, and I do love Henry Tilney and his witty speeches, even if he's a little hard on Catherine at times without her realizing it....more
Excellent book, even if I'm always sad to have the POV shift from Cimorene to Mendanbar. I suspect that it's to make the series have a broader appealExcellent book, even if I'm always sad to have the POV shift from Cimorene to Mendanbar. I suspect that it's to make the series have a broader appeal but I miss her thoughts, even as he appreciates how awesome she is....more
This is still an all-time favorite book 18 years after I discovered it, at the perfect age of 12. I loved fantasy and fairy tales then, but I also hadThis is still an all-time favorite book 18 years after I discovered it, at the perfect age of 12. I loved fantasy and fairy tales then, but I also had a taste for things that played with cliche and convention, probably because I read The Hobbit instead of LotR and grew up on Douglas Adams and Monty Python quotes from my parents. This book perfectly matches a fairy tale atmosphere with clever satire and lots of very sensible characters, who know how to navigate the rules of fairy tale lands. And Cimorene is the greatest! I always feel that Wrede over-explains the plotty parts of her books, but I didn't notice that when I first read it, and I have a lot of accumulated nostalgia that makes this book a perfect read for when I need a mental break or a pick-me-up in an afternoon. I wish I could give this book to every 12 year old girl everywhere....more
This is a total comfort read for me -- I still vividly recall reading it for the first time at age 13 and sympathizing in agonizing detail with the heThis is a total comfort read for me -- I still vividly recall reading it for the first time at age 13 and sympathizing in agonizing detail with the heroine's struggles. Because I was relatively new to adult books, I completely did not see the famous twist coming, for which I'm always glad. I'm not much for tear-jerkers or books that tug (or attempt to tug) at the romantic heartstrings, but this book takes me right to that place every time. The settings are fabulously detailed too, and a little escapism to posh 1930s England is always fun. I also only just realized on this reread that the story is a kind of retelling of Jane Eyre, with several important changes. That makes me like it all the more, since I think de Maurier was consciously engaging with an earlier gothic text without just following a preset outline. ...more
I loved this book when I first read it in college; coming back to it ten years later I can't help but apply the lens of critical race theory, which duI loved this book when I first read it in college; coming back to it ten years later I can't help but apply the lens of critical race theory, which dulls it a little. The story is good and the world is well-imagined, but at its heart the book is basically yet another twist on the "white person takes up the oppressed brown people's cause and turns out to be a better warrior of their school than they are with almost no training" (ie Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar, etc.) The fact that the heroine turns out to be 1/8 Damarian doesn't really help, as it brings to mind the blood laws of the American South where being 1/8 black was enough for the laws to apply, and neither does the fact that the brown hill people of course have inherent blood magic which allows the heroine to be awesome without really having to work at it. After rereading both, I still prefer the prequel, where the heroine spends years training and studying to be awesome (though she too is inexplicably pale-skinned, as if fantasy readers couldn't identify with a dark-skinned heroine of a dark-skinned people)....more