Monday, January 17, 2011

New Review: A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

There are a million reasons why I could never be a literary critic. The first, and perhaps most important, is that I don't want to be one. I love reading because it allows me to escape, to relax, and to be entertained. I don't want reading to have to be work; something I have to trudge through. When I see companion books to novels like Ulysses or To the Lighthouse, I shudder. It's not that I don't like the be challenged. Some of my favorite books, including the Modern Library 100's own The Magus, have pushed my literary comfort zone.

With that in mind, there is another very important reason I could never be a literary critic: I do not find the everyday lives of Englishmen and women interesting whatsoever. Tales of the challenging or fall of the aristocracy, of preserving one's chastity, or of summer homes in continental Europe do absolutely nothing for me. It's almost a formula for my eyes glazing over. I'll make it through ten pages and realized I retained absolutely nothing. I know it's probably heresy, but books like The Death of the Heart, Loving, Brideshead Revisited, and, yes, A Room with a View just are not enjoyable for me to read. I realize that they have merit and are appreciated by many greater minds than my own, but I think they're just not very good.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, as noted above, is one of those novels which deal with the banal details of English life in the early twentieth century. It is listed number seventy-nine on the Modern Library Top 100 list.

It focuses on Lucy, a young Englishwomen who briefly falls in love with George, a young, modern, somewhat uncouth guest at the same hotel she is staying at in Florence. She is confused by her feelings, which she believes are inappropriate, particularly because the rest of the "fancy" guests find George and his father distasteful and vulgar. She leaves Florence and her love to head back to England, where she settles in and gets engaged to an acceptable, traditional member of the aristocracy. She may not be entirely happy, but she is doing what she is supposed to and her life is calm.

As fate would have it, she is reunited with George and her feelings of love for him are sparked again. She wrestles with her feelings for him and the impropriety of them while she is engaged. Eventually, she picks - HA, like I'm going to tell you which gentleman she gets with - and they settle down. Fin.

Obviously, this book is about growing up and of being in love. If a reader couldn't tell this, I would question whether he or she could actually read. The deeper themes includes the cultural clashes of this time between the conservative culture and thought represented by almost all of the characters in the novel; the newer, more radical generation, represented by George and his father; and those caught in the middle (Lucy).

Is it a bad book? Like most of the novels on this list that I haven't read, no. It's just not my thing. I'm not sure I would recommend it generally, but for those fans of Victorian and other British literature, it should suit your fancy. It's relatively short and is very readable, so you're not making a huge commitment even if you don't enjoy it.

I give A Room with a View by E.M. Forster three out of five stars.


Once I finished this novel, I used an internet random number generator to pick what I will read next. In one of the most pleasant and timely coincidence I could possibly imagine, the number it chose was 114, which is the number associated with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. 

You couldn't even make this up (well, I guess you could). On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the random number generator chose what very well may be the finest piece of literature by an African-American author. It is actually on the Moden Library, Radcliffe Rival, and Time Magazine best novel lists. It was published in 1952 and was the only novel Ellison had published during his lifetime. It won the National Book Award in 1953.

I've read portions of this novel, but never the whole thing, so it should be a treat. It is only fitting that on this important day, I will be lucky enough to start a novel dealing not only with the difficulties facing African-Americans, but a novel which looks at what ones place is in society as an individual. I am very much looking forward to getting a start on this and will hopefully be back with a review for you all before long.