Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It was a cliched and hackneyed night.

Current book: Where Angels Fear to Tread
Pages read: 151-184 (end)

Ok, are you ready for this? You might want to sit down, because E. M. Forster went all Shakespeare on me at the end of this book, and more happened in the last 33 pages than in pretty much the rest of the whole thing. Phillip is unable to convince the Italian father (Gino) to part with the baby, and so all involved are going to head back to England in defeat. (Well, except Caroline will actually be heading back in triumph, technically.) However, right before they're supposed to leave, the sister-in-law (Harriet) decides, in a flash of predictable idiocy, to kidnap the baby. On the rainy pitch-black carriage ride away from the scene of the crime, however, there's a terrible collision and the baby is killed. Also, Phillip breaks his elbow, but that's not really important. Afterward, Phillip goes to tell Gino about the whole thing, and Gino, in a fit of rage, tries to kill him, but Caroline sweeps in at the last second to save his life. Just before they finally leave Italy, Phillip is seconds away from confessing his now-fully realized love for Caroline, but she beats him to the punch by unburdening her secret passion for Gino! They part in an agony of unrequited love.

All of this is followed by about eight straight pages of unnecessary and obvious analysis of their mutual discovery that life's passion is bittersweet, but that the experiences are worth the pain due to their intense beauty. It would have been a lot more meaningful if Forster had left us to discover that on our own, but it was 1905, and most people weren't giving their readers a lot of credit.

So, I found the whole thing pretty uninspiring, when it wasn't outright ridiculous. It's kind of a bad novel, really. (Don't get me wrong. It's not bad like Sophie Kinsella or Dean Koontz or anything, but it's hardly great literature.) I think it made the list for the same reason that Midnight's Children did: it's an inferior, earlier work by an author famous for a much better novel. Really, though, I worry about the people who wrote this list. They should get out more. And by get out, I mean stay inside and read.

Anyway, overall, I guess we were going for an examination of the stifling and ludicrous nature of English society as well as a story of the ephemerality and beauty of life. It's been done, and much better. Thumbs down. (Also, if he was going to go for the ridiculous Shakespearean ending, more people should have died. Preferably by the sword.)

Updike, you don't have a tough act to follow. Try not to screw it up.

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