Saturday, January 21, 2012

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I tried to read this novel for three months before actually managing to do it. I got it for my birthday in September, and I thought to myself, "Awesome! I'm going to read this next week!" Well, the next week shaped up to be hectic, and Middlemarch is over 700 pages, so I put it on deck for the following week and bumped up a shorter work from my list. The following week arrived, and the scenario repeated itself. For six weeks. I was starting to fear that Middlemarch was going to become some kind of literary nemesis, or the one that got away, and I would descend into madness like Captain Ahab, taking my family down with me in my struggle to FINALLY READ THIS BOOK!!!

Then the week before Christmas arrived. One group of company had just left, another was due to arrive in six days. Gifts were bought and wrapped; packages sent; cookies baked; house decorated; programs attended; functions contributed to; cards mailed; menus planned... it was the calm before the storm. I pulled out the giant book. I sat down. And I FINISHED IT! Well, not in one sitting, but in one week. After such a build up of anticipation, one might fear an anticlimactic letdown, a mental "meh..." during the epilogue. Fortunately we're talking about one of the greatest English novels of all time here.

I would describe Middlemarch as detailing a set of character portraits and the intricate web of relationships that grows between them. Some of the characters are initially misunderstood by other characters. After some time the mistaken character realizes (at least partly) the true nature of the other character. Some characters change and grow over time; others are fossilized and refuse to change. The work tracks a community over the course of time, and therefore its detail and length are necessary. In some ways, the first two thirds of the novel functioned as set up for the final third. Because of this I found it to have a slow start and to be more difficult to get into. Upon finishing it, I wasn't really sure how well I liked it, but after taking time to think it over, I appreciate it more. As the web of relationships grows between the characters, over time the book grows on the reader. Middlemarch is well-written, with a lot of social commentary and character development. Beyond that, I'm a little paralyzed about how to review it or what to say. After all, it's Middlemarch.

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