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A real test…finishing Middlemarch by George Eliot.

It has taken me two weeks and one day, but I have finally finished Middlemarch. Hooray! I won’t deny that it was hard-going at times and required more than a little perseverance.

It’s described as a classic and I have had it said to me (when I’ve said that I’m reading it) “Oh, now that’s a good book” – and I won’t deny that at points I’ve felt tempted to answer “is it?”. I suppose, as always, that depends on your definition of a good book. With hindsight and careful consideration I think I would go so far as to say that Middlemarch is a good book, but I would not say that it is without fault. Perhaps the style it is written in might have been more easily interpreted in its day, however, I won’t deny that I found Eliot’s style of writing rather ‘exclusive’ and superior – it’s prose for intellectuals. Some might consider this a good thing, but I can’t understand how any mode of writing which prohibits its being understood by all who could be cheered and affected by it can be good. It reminds me in many ways of academic texts which I pored over while at uni, and they too seemed to be written to deliberately exclude the understanding of all.

But, I have been very critical, and Middlemarch does have a great deal to recommend it. The story, or should that be stories, are real moral tales which show a great understanding of human nature and the motives that drive and restrain us. It also provides a very complete and real picture of life in 19th century England – although only, it must be said, for a certain rank of people. Despite touching upon the same sort of society as Austen, Eliot’s novel is – in my opinion – barely comparable. To see what two different female authors can create of a similar setting and period (Middlemarch is set just a little over fifteen years later than Pride and Prejudice’s publication) has interested me whilst reading Middlemarch. It can’t be denied that  Middlemarch does directly address and comment upon the politics of the age in which its story is set, something which Austen has been greatly criticised for ignoring; however, I have to question what exactly this reference to the politics of the time does to enhance Middlemarch. The lives of the characters seem to pass untouched and unaffected by them because of their rank and means. Eliot does provide us with snapshots of the harder lives of Mr Brooke’s tenants and the farm labourers of Lowick, but they are not the characters which her novel is mainly concerned with. Dorothea is imbued with an innate and Christian desire to improve the lives of those around her, however, in Middlemarch‘s ‘Finale’ we are not informed of the conditions of Mr Brooke’s tenants, merely of the futures of the novel’s more wealthy characters. But I have rambled away from my point, which is that though Eliot’s novel is widely held up as being less trivial and introverted than Austen’s (and, therefore, a more serious novel), I can’t say that its referring to politics and the wider world does anything to make the story being told more important or valuable.

The real value of Middlemarch lies, just as in Austen, in its characters and the way they choose to live their lives. Their moral compasses and how they meet the challenges that life throws at them. Middlemarch is a story that teaches you; I’ve heard it said that it’s a ‘book to live your life by’ – and I concede that through seeing the faults and vices of Middlemarch’s inhabitants you are forced to see your own weaknesses rendered ugly in another. A sobering lesson for anyone; and Middlemarch does have so very many characters who have so very many faults that I think it would be a rare reader who did not see something of their own flaws in one of them.

Will I be reading Middlemarch again? No, I don’t think so. Am I glad that I have read it? Yes, undoubtedly. Would I recommend it? Not to everyone, it’s an acquired taste. Middlemarch is a book for those who have an appreciation of moralistic writing, an understanding of high-brow prose, and who find people’s flaws intriguing. You can learn a lot from this book,  but you pay for this knowledge with time and much effort.

As for me? Well, I don’t intend to take on quite such a long book this time. I move on to Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

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Several cups of tea later, still persevering with Middlemarch by George Eliot.

As promised, I have endeavoured to sit down and give Middlemarch a fair trial this weekend. I must be honest and say that it hasn’t been the easiest of endeavours. I have reached Chapter 15, but am still finding it very slow going. While the characters have become slightly more interesting, the pace of the story and the fact that there are so many different storylines simultaneously at play makes, in my opinion, for a less satisfying read. Perhaps I have been spoilt by the fast pace of modern novels and the quick witticisms of authors like Austen and Woolf, but I still feel as if I am waiting for this novel to really begin, and I’m already well into ‘Book Two’.

I’m happy to say that the storyline has moved away from the overly pious Miss Brooke and her new husband, whose ill-founded and misguided opinions did nothing but irritate me; however, I think this may well have been Eliot’s intention. I can only suppose, and hope, that with a fuller knowledge and understanding of the characters and the connections between them, I will come to find the minutiae of provincial life in 19th century England a little more engaging that I do at present. We shall see. I am by no means done with Middlemarch yet and fully intend to enjoy it more. I have heard it recommended and held-up as a true classic so often that I am determined to see in it what others have done before me, however long that may take (and however many dissatisfied blogs I have to write).

I have a sneaking suspicion that this book is going to require significantly more cups of tea than those I have read already, after all as C. S. Lewis said, ‘You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me’, I think I shall have to make that my motto, whilst reading Middlemarch at least.

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Slow going, reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Well, unfortunately it’s been another busy day today, so not got too far with the reading. I have picked up the book though, so am not feeling totally guilty. I’m still finding it quite slow going, and am not feeling particularly drawn to any of the characters. I wasn’t expecting so many religious overtones, but given  that it’s set in 19th century rural England I guess I should’ve known better. I’m determined to keep with it though, not only because people have told me it’s worth it, but also because…well, when I’ve set myself a challenge I like to keep to it.

With the weekend coming up, hopefully I’ll sit down and have a good hour’s read to get myself into it as so far it’s only been me catching a few moments reading whenever I can. As Lauren put it, I will keep fighting the good fight. Until tomorrow then…

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Reassuring…a review of The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom.

Well, one day, one book. I’ve read the whole thing. It only took me a couple of hours to read in the end. It’s not as long as it looks on account of the short passages and short chapters. I’ve always found that I read books with short chapters far quicker than those with long ones. I think it somehow tricks your brain into reading on… ‘it’s only a short chapter, just one more then I’ll go and get on’.

One chapter more, and, you’ve read it all. What of the book itself though? Again, I enjoyed it. And there I was thinking I was choosy. As I expected, this book’s completely different to the others I’ve read this week. A much more modern book in a much more modern setting; and a new country too…this one’s written by an American and set in America. Unlike Rebecca where I always felt the narrator was hiding something from me, this book’s the exact opposite. During the course of the book, Eddie, the narrator, tells you all about his life…the people, his work, the places, the feelings. You come to have a strong image of Eddie, you feel you know what he looks like, how he moves, even what he’s thinking.

The premise of the book is an unusual and interesting one. It does exactly what the title says and introduces you to Eddie not only through the day leading up to his death, but through the five people who await him in the afterlife. It’s a refreshing take on a life Eddie feels hasn’t amounted to much. And it makes you consider your own life, what five people would be waiting for you? Would you know them when you saw them? Have you already met them?

The book’s saturated with the idea of there being no shame in living an ordinary life, in fact, the very idea that there’s no such thing as an ordinary life rings loudly at the book’s end. Despite Eddie’s simple life, as a reader you’re encouraged to take a certain pride in him and the work he does. It would be so easy to feel sorry for Eddie, but Albom does not let you. That’s not what this story’s about. We’re not here to pity anyone, merely to learn from them and the life they’ve lead.

I defy anyone not to think having read this book. Not about Eddie, you’ve made your peace with him while reading the book. Having closed the book, it’s more about yourself that you’re left thinking. Considering your own life as though you’re a spectator on the sidelines. Wondering, as I said above, who will be there to meet you? What will your heaven entail? Who will you have to wait for?

It’s a thought-provoking book, but I think that’s fairly evident from its title. It’s less haughty than I’d imagined, though. It doesn’t preach, doesn’t have its own agenda. Doesn’t hold  itself up as the only truth, as I’d worried it might. It’s a good, and surprisingly easy read. I’ve already recommended it, I’ll do so again. Read it. It might even make you feel better about the way you live, about the years that’ve passed…it’ll soothe that nagging worry that haunts so many of us…the ‘what ifs’, the  ‘it could’ve been me’…instead it makes you consider that perhaps things just…are; and maybe, at the end you’ll come to realise that ‘it was you’, after all.

Book number four…well, I’m off to the library tomorrow having read all the one’s I got last time, so I’ll let you know.

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Filed under 21st century, Books, Fiction, Mitch Albom, Novel