Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Book Notes: February 5-11

I am ecstatic to report that I have at last finished George Eliot's lugubrious tome, Middlemarch.  Or have I?  It could well be that in some alternate reality or dimension I am still slogging through this Victorian monstrosity at glacial speeds.  But, in this current cosmic slice, I do believe I have finished.  And that is a good thing.

OK, so the tone of that first paragraph might lead you to believe that I hated this book.  But, no, I really did not.  I do not know if I exactly liked it; but, certainly not hate.  Hate is reserved for really gawd-awful books like A Prayer for Owen Meany.  And Middlemarch is not bad.  It may even have been a masterpiece if the author had had the self-discipline to lop off about 200 pages.

The Mill on the Floss is an Eliot novel that I love.  Silas Marner is an Eliot novel that I did not love.  I guess I always thought that Middlemarch would be the tie-breaker that would firmly place me in or out of the Eliot camp.  But, novels, like the life that they tend to imitate, are rarely so clear-cut.  All-in-all, I am glad to have read it.  And, I cannot imagine ever wanting to revisit it again.

It seemed to take Eliot quite a ways into the narrative before she found comfort and assurance in her authorial voice.  She seems to have been overwriting through much of the early setting and staging of the novel.  I'm not sure for what she was compensating, but as a writer who tends toward overwriting herself, I could sympathize, though not condone.  It did not help that many of the plot points were absolutely uninteresting to me -- such as Mr. Brooke's foray into politics and the Reform Bill.  I never quite connected with Dorothea Brooke, who always seemed to walk the line of too-good and annoying without ever coming into clearer definition as a human being.  The marriage of Lydgate and Rosamond was painful to witness; and the only cheering aspect of the story was when Eliot mercifully brought us back into the company of the Garths -- especially the delightful redemption of Fred Vincy and his romance with Mary Garth.  Those were the only true and beautiful parts in a novel that just seemed to try too hard.  Most of it is quite the bummer, with a slightly redeeming finale to cap it off.

I do have to comment with great admiration on the meticulous structure of the plot, though.  It could have been cleaner in its foundation, but all the joists and hinges fit seamlessly and swung easily through to the nigh-breathtaking conclusion.  So, kudos to George on that.

Read Middlemarch if you have about ten to twelve hours to spare.  It's 800+ pages of Victorian verbosity that will leave you slightly edified and greatly fatigued.

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