Thursday, August 27, 2015
Middlemarch - George Eliot
I have a confession to make: I got this book as a present for my seventeenth birthday. It's taken me fifteen years to get around to reading it. Why? Because I had to read The Mill on the Floss for first year university fourteen years ago, and it was non-stop struggle street for me. Essentially, it put me off reading George Eliot for a really long time.
So when I was putting together my Classics Club list, I figured I may as well put this one on the list and see if I could get over my preconceived notions about George Eliot.
I...had mixed feelings about this book. It's essentially the story of a town's worth of inhabitants. The story starts with one or two major characters, then moves on to focus on a couple of characters who appeared as minor characters in the previous section etc etc.
As a general rule, I struggle with stories that jump around between a lot of characters. I had the same feelings about Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Shirley by Charlotte Bronte. Hell, I even felt that way about Game of Thrones. And it's not because any of those books were bad (although personally, I thought Game of Thrones was decidedly mediocre). It's just that they jumped around so much that I found it difficult to keep all the different threads of the story straight in my head, and I struggled with the sections dealing with characters that I didn't especially care for.
What I liked most about Middlemarch was that the characters weren't perfect. And I'm not talking flawed in the way that Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are flawed where you can't help but love them. In Middlemarch, the characters are deeply flawed. They don't always get happily ever afters. They rush into marriage and then discover that their new spouse isn't the person they thought. They stand back and let people die. They hold grudges, they screw up, they're vindictive, they're petty.
And all of that was great. They were actual human characters leading actual human lives. But there were a lot of characters that I just didn't particularly care about. Either I didn't find them interesting or their stories dragged on and on without any real progress for hundreds of pages, and then all of a sudden things would be wrapped up in a neat little package with two pages to spare.
Really, I think the problem here was me more than the book. It was long and often dry, and there were times when I felt like I was reading page after page without making any real progress. The characters that I liked were enough to get this a three star rating from me. But I definitely didn't have the five star "OMG AMAZING" experience that so many others seem to have had. Which, frankly, makes me a little bit sad.
Have you read it? What did you think?