Glenn Sumi's Reviews > A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
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really liked it
bookshelves: 1900-1960, classics, guardian-1000, modern-library-100

Edwardian-era propriety meets Italian passion with entertaining results in E.M. Forster’s sunny, slight, but ever so charming comedy of manners.

Well-known from the sumptuous Merchant-Ivory adaptation (which I rewatched immediately after finishing the book), the novel tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a proper English girl who, while on vacation in Florence with her cousin/chaperone, Miss Bartlett, meets George Emerson, a handsome but odd philosophical soul, who’s travelling with his eccentric, truth-telling father.

All four are staying at the Pension Bertolini, and the others they meet there – the lady novelist Eleanor Lavish, the two older, unmarried sisters (dubbed the Miss Alans), and someone from Lucy’s village, the very accommodating Reverend Arthur Beebe – will cross paths with them later in unexpected ways.

As in the other books by him I’ve read, Forster’s narration is delightfully genial. He’ll remind us, for instance, that we haven’t really spent much time with a particular character, tell us that we know more about Lucy’s actions than she does herself, hint at plot developments to come, and generally treat his characters with a satiric, gently chiding tone. At times that tone can seem trivial; midway through the book I felt it was all just so much upper-middle-class flim flam.

(More quibbles: George’s physical treatment of Lucy, especially in light of today’s sensitivity around consent, seems less romantic than troubling. And I know we’re meant to be at a remove from the authentic Italians in the first half of the book, but I wish we got more than just clichés about tempestuous murderers and horny carriage drivers.)

But there is so much to enjoy in the book: the tart dialogue, the grand themes of love, country vs. city life, fate and coincidence… there’s even a comment on the idea of novels and writers themselves. Lucy’s mother, a fine comic creation, has a preposterous attitude towards female writers that I’m sure Forster, a friend and admirer of Virginia Woolf’s, for one, didn’t share.

I also like that the book’s stuffiest character, Lucy’s fiancé, the pretentious aesthete Cecil Vyse (a whole review could be written on the book’s beautifully suggestive names), comes across with his dignity intact in his later scenes.

If anything, of the main players only the character of George seems the thinnest, which is perhaps why he’s given some intriguing actions in the film (otherwise he might be a cipher). And I like how a significant scene near the end makes us reflect on the nature and motivation of Charlotte.

But above all, I’ll remember this book for its knowing glimpse into the life of a girl discovering her voice, freedom and strength – even in a restrictive society. It’s suggested early in the book that Lucy, a pianist, plays Beethoven in a way that is surprising; if she could apply that same passion to her life it would be quite thrilling to watch.

By the end of the book, we see her begin to do that, and yes, it’s quite something.
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Reading Progress

August 22, 2018 – Started Reading
August 22, 2018 – Shelved
August 22, 2018 – Shelved as: 1900-1960
August 22, 2018 – Shelved as: classics
August 31, 2018 –
page 168
65.63% "I've seen the movie a couple of times, of course, but this is my first time reading this book. I like the tone he establishes, but compared to Howards End and especially A Passage To India, this feels so trivial."
September 3, 2018 – Shelved as: guardian-1000
September 3, 2018 – Shelved as: modern-library-100
September 3, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Charles (new)

Charles Excellent review. I have this on a bookshelf, paired with Where Angels Fear to Tread. It may well be the next thing I read.

Glenn Sumi Charles wrote: "Excellent review. I have this on a bookshelf, paired with Where Angels Fear to Tread. It may well be the next thing I read."

Thanks, Charles! It's a lovely novel, and I can see why Ruth Prawer Jhabvala lifted lots of dialogue directly from the book for the film. Funny you should mention Angels! I was thinking that it's also partly set in Italy, so I was thinking of reading that soon, to see how it contrasts with this.

message 3: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Thanks for the great review Glenn !

Jill Hutchinson I really enjoyed this book and just finished Howard's End, also by Forster< which was equally enchanting. Your review is right on target!

Glenn Sumi Melanie: Thanks so much! I put off this book for soooo long. Glad I finally picked it up!

Glenn Sumi Thanks, Jill! Ooo really liked Howards End too! Now I suddenly want to read everything Forster wrote.

message 7: by Will (last edited Sep 04, 2018 08:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Ansbacher Delightful review Glenn, glad you finally got round to reading it!

Glenn Sumi Will: Thanks! Better late than never, right? Always good to know that the classics hold up over time.

Violet wells Excellent and fair review, Glenn.

Glenn Sumi Thanks, Violet! Hope you’re well. His book DID make me want to revisit Florence again, so lucky you ;)

message 11: by Cheri (new) - added it

Cheri This is such a lovely review, Glenn. On my list...

Glenn Sumi Cheri: Awww... thank you so much! I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book. But I’m glad I did. There are a few more Forsters I need to cross off my list. He’s so good.

tenzin Want to read this one day

Glenn Sumi Ashappyasiget: Cool! Definitely recommend.

message 15: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee Thanks for the reminder of how wonderful Forster is Glenn !!

Glenn Sumi You’re very welcome, Jaidee! Hope you’re reading some great books.

Renata Delightful review! You made me want to reread the book curled up in a chair while listening to classical music. It’s been a few decades (gasp!) since I last read and loved his books.

Glenn Sumi Renata: So Sorry! Just seeing this comment now. Hope you did - or do - get to curl up and reread this book. I’ve read the major Forsters now but there are a couple of books - and a collection of stories - I have yet to read. I look forward to them.

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