TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt | Review

I never realized how many popular children’s books I neglected to read when I was younger until I started talking about them with my friends one day. This led me to read books like Matilda by Roald Dahl and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen in the midst of all my required summer reading to take a quick break from Victorian novels. Among those books was a gem that I still cannot believe I waited twenty years to read: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

I can’t even tell you how much I loved this book. I read it in one sitting and immediately wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again. In an effort to convince you to read this amazing children’s book if you haven’t (and to reread it if you already have!), here are five reasons why you should read Tuck Everlasting:

1 || The characters. Despite this book’s short length, I somehow managed to become incredibly invested in Babbitt’s masterfully developed characters. From lovely Winnie and courageous Mae to wise Angus and adorable Jesse, I couldn’t help but root for these charming characters.

2 || The suspense. The pacing of this book is so well done. There is never a moment that drags or feels out-of-place (if anything, I wish it were longer because I loved it so much!). The climax comes at the perfect moment: when you’re lulled into a state of bliss and start to forget about the worrisome foreshadowing that happened earlier on. Even though you know in the back of your mind that everything will eventually take a turn for the worse, you can’t help but hope for Winnie’s sake that life will be okay for a little longer!

3 || The writing. Not only is Natalie Babbitt an amazing storyteller, but she’s also a brilliant writer. There are countless lines in Tuck Everlasting that just seem to leap off the page and beg to be read again and again.

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

4 || The themes. Be curious. Seek adventure. Live in the moment. Be present. Care genuinely and wholeheartedly about others. I could go on and on listing all of the important messages this book delivers. These themes are what makes Tuck Everlasting a sort of universal novel– Who can’t benefit from being reminded of these life lessons every one and a while?

5 || The ending. I was completely surprised by the ending of this book. The typical fairy tale conclusion, all rosy and ideal and romantic, is not what Natalie Babbitt delivers. Instead, she leaves the reader with an ending that is bittersweet but still memorable, heartwarming, and that makes sense within the context of the rest of the story.

Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on this book? Have any recommendations of other children’s books I might have missed out on when I was younger? What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot | Review

George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch has been on my bibliophilic radar for years, though I never found time to read it until it appeared on one of my required reading lists for Oxford. I once had a professor who described Middlemarch as being a “smarter Pride and Prejudice. This comment immediately intrigued me. What did he mean by smarter? His remark came back to me as soon as I started reading Middlemarch and now that I’ve finished I think I may understand what he was trying to say.

Middlemarch is about so much more than courtship, engagements, and marriages; of course, the same rings true for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but in a more subtle way. Eliot uses Victorian romance and courtly love as a vehicle for telling the story she actually wants to convey. The hierarchy of socioeconomic class is at the heart of nearly every decision each character makes, whether that be in the form of their access to money, their thriving or dwindling social network, and even judgment from others. Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist, is an embodiment of this message. Though she quickly marries, she does so out of an intense desire to serve the greater good, gain valuable knowledge with which to help others, and help her new husband in his theological studies. Her decision later on in the novel regarding another love interest may appear to be solely a display of affection; however, it is actually a statement about defying the expectations that correspond with the socioeconomic hierarchy. Rather than comply with the wishes of her family and friends, she chooses to follow her gut instinct and disregard societal judgement.

We see the influence of social expectations reflected in nearly all the characters in Eliot’s fictional town. Though Dorothea may be considered the protagonist, Eliot brings us into the lives of several other notable figures as well. The focus often shifts from Dorothea’s predicaments to those of her sister and other local families, giving the reader a close look at several different relationships and scenarios. I was impressed by how seamlessly Eliot connects them all via engagements, business negotiations, family ties, and unexpected events. However, even with a rotating cast of characters, the pace of Middlemarch felt slow in the middle five hundred pages or so. It’s natural to have ups and downs in pacing as the plot thickens and then problems resolve, but at times the pace of the novel felt almost glacial.

The basic story of the novel wasn’t what I was initially expecting, though I enjoyed it nevertheless. I was surprised to realize how interesting doctors and medical treatment was during this time period. Because doctors were often expected to treat patients in their homes, there’s an important level of trust and intimacy between the patient, family, and medical provider. The socioeconomic hierarchy also plays an interesting role in this dynamic because the doctor wishes to be perceived as professional and competent enough to be called upon by wealthy, respected households. I appreciate Eliot’s focus on a rather mundane aspect of daily life because it reveals a surprising amount about social circles in a town such as Middlemarch.

Overall, Middlemarch was well worth the long wait it took to finally be read. Was my professor correct when he deemed Middlemarch to be a “smarter” Pride and Prejudice? I guess that depends how you define “smarter” as well as how determined you are to categorize or rank novels by certain (and rather arbitrary) criteria. Though Eliot may be blunter than Austen when it comes to portraying the influence of societal expectations, but I believe that both novels contain valuable insights about Victorian society.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Especially to those who enjoy the work of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

What are your thoughts on Middlemarch? Have you read any of George Eliot’s other novels? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy | Review

Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road tells the story of a father and son as they struggle to survive in an apocalyptic world not too unlike our own. The sun doesn’t shine, food is scarce, and few people have survived—yet our protagonists travel onward, relentlessly trudging along the same never-ending road. Filled with a desperate hope that is unexpectedly infectious, The Road follows the father and son as they attempt to survive against all odds.

One can’t help but be immediately struck by McCarthy’s unusual narration style while reading The Road. At first his abandonment of quotation marks and apostrophes was jarring, but over time I realized how well it suits the story. It seems like a reflection of how desolate the father and his son’s world has become: not even voices can survive, hence the lack of quotation marks in their dialogue. The best way I can describe the narration is that it feels like a sort of stream of consciousness in third person. It is intimate and detached at the same time, making the reader feel simultaneously included and ostracized. Such a unique writing style makes for a reading experience that is both bizarre and incredibly fascinating.

A major strength of The Road is its careful balance of detail and ambivalence. McCarthy explains enough to answer the basic important questions but doesn’t provide an answer to everything the reader might be wondering. For instance, throughout the novel we learn more about the boy’s mother and why she isn’t with them now; however, we aren’t told exactly what happened to cause such a drastic change on Earth. I think too many dystopian novels make the mistake of outlining catastrophic events that the actual story suffers and is lost along the way. It was nice to not have to worry about understanding exactly what caused the “end of the world” as we know it; rather, all you can do as a reader is focus on the future of these characters. In a way, this forward-looking mindset helped me connect with the characters more, especially with the little boy. He has no memory of what the world was like before or during the transition from “before” to his “now,” much like the reader has very little knowledge of what happened in that transitional period.

Speaking of the little boy, I was surprised by the suspense and depth of this novel considering it mainly focuses on only two characters. It never feels as though it is lacking in anything; instead, the McCarthy is able to bring out the personalities of the father and his son more strongly than if there were a larger cast of characters. There is an unexpected sense of intimacy in this novel, as though these characters are allowing us to view sides of them that no one else sees. Whether they’re at rock bottom or sky-high, we’re taken into their world and shown their vulnerability, faults, and hidden desires. Don’t let the character-driven nature of this novel fool you—it’s still an engaging, suspenseful page-turner that becomes harder and harder to put down as you read.

One of the only aspects of The Road that I feel lukewarm about is the ending. The final scene makes sense when thinking about the rest of the novel, but the more emotional reader in me desperately wishes it had ended differently. It gives the reader some closure, but is it enough? I suppose that up to the individual to decide.

Overall, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a much more emotional, intimate, heart-wrenching novel than I initially expected it to be. There is certainly suspense, action, and even a bit of mystery, but what makes this novel memorable is the emphasized relationship between the father and his son. Their relationship is like the blood pumping through this story or the thread binding these pages together. Whether you’re interested in this novel for the characters, plot, or general premise, I highly recommend picking up The Road.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!

What are your thoughts on The Road? Are there any other books by Cormac McCarthy that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell | Review

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is the second novel I had to read for the Victorian Literature tutorial I’m taking at Oxford during my first term. It’s fitting that this follows Dickens’ Hard Times on our summer reading list because Dickens was actually the editor of the magazine that Gaskell’s novel was initially serially published from September 1854 to January 1855. Interestingly enough, Dickens is also credited with creating the title for this novel (in opposition to Gaskell, who wanted to title her work “Margaret Hale” after the protagonist). Set in the fictional manufacturing town of Milton, this novel follows Margaret as she transitions from living in rural southern England to urban northern England.

+ The social problem. I’d be amiss if I didn’t start by highlighting how well Gaskell addresses what is often known as the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The novel’s focus on the plight of factory workers during this time period is fascinating, especially in regard to the strike and its effect on the Higgins family. Little Mary Higgins humanizes the “Hands” that factory owners often disregarded as incompetent and lazy.

+ Community vs. class. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is the overall message it delivers: personal relationships can be more important than one’s social class. The immense amount of character development in this novel is particularly apparent when you look at how many characters learn the lesson of community over class. This lesson is one of the many ways in which North and South is as relevant today as it was back in Gaskell’s lifetime.

+ Margaret Hale. Margaret reminds me of one of my favorite characters in literature: Jane from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Both characters are strong, independent young women who experience many changes in their lives. They are resilient and clever, intelligent and courageous, yet never lose their immense capacities for compassion and empathy. I think it’s telling that Gaskell initially wanted to name this novel after Margaret herself because it suggests that she viewed the protagonist as the real heart of the story.

One of my only complaints is that this novel ends very abruptly compared to its prior steady pace. Not only does the ending feel sudden, but it also leaves many questions unanswered. What happens to the Higgins family, Fred, and Mrs. Thornton? What was the point of the marriage proposal at the very beginning of the novel?  How does Mr. Henry Lennox feel about the concluding events of the novel? Does Margaret receive a lot of backlash for her decision or is there a positive response? It almost feels as though this novel was missing an epilogue to tie all of these loose ends together.

Nevertheless, North and South was an engaging and enjoyable introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think anyone who has read and enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre should definitely consider picking up North and South.

What are your thoughts on this novel? Have you read anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to Pair with Classics

Happy Tuesday!! August is coming to a close, which means it’s time to start thinking about going back to school. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is back-to-school themed, which means I’ve decided to focus on classic literature. Classics definitely get a bad reputation from required reading lists in classrooms; however, I think looking at parallels between classic and contemporary literature help demonstrates how books from the past influence what we read and write in the present. Here are ten classic couples to check out!

I’m thinking of starting a series of posts in which I go into more detail about some of these pairs. There are so many parallels between classic and contemporary literature!

What books would you pair with some of your favorite classics? What do you think of the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ECHO by Nadette Rae Rodgers | {RECEIVED FOR REVIEW}

*** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ***

Nadette Rae Rodger’s thrilling novel Echo continues the story of Addison and Zach as they grapple with their ever-present dreams. Soon these dreams start to transform into living nightmares as more details of the past are revealed. Why is Mitch so determined on seeking revenge? What is Aunt Carrie’s relationship with dreams? How are these two lives intertwined? All is uncovered in this second installment of the Illusion Trilogy.

A major strength of this novel is the way it seamlessly incorporates numerous different perspectives. Though the main narrator is Addison, we also see through the eyes of Mitch and read several journal entries written by Aunt Carrie. Coupled with very short chapters, the constant rotation of different perspectives adds suspense, intrigue, and depth to the novel. Moreover, I appreciate the use of different fonts to clearly indicate when the narrator has changed because it prevents any confusion from occurring. The variety of fonts also makes reading a lot more fun!

Another strength of Echo is its fairly realistic depiction of an average high school experience. Unfortunately, I feel as though the Young Adult genre is notorious for inaccurately portraying what high school is actually like in real life. Of course, no fictional representation is going to be perfect; however, Nadette Rae Rodgers does an excellent job of constantly reminding the reader that these characters are teenagers dealing with so much besides the obstacles faced in their dreams. Addison struggles with catching up with all of the schoolwork she missed, changing friendships, family dynamics, and worries over what to do with her life after graduating from high school. Even in the midst of her nightmarish turmoil, Addison is still a human being like you and me. 

As with Illusion, the first book in this trilogy, I love its focus on dreaming. I’m someone who often vividly remembers what I dream about at night– but I can’t imagine those dreams coming to life! Nadette has taken something ordinary and made it extraordinary with the Illusion Trilogy, which is precisely what makes storytelling so wonderful.

Overall, I was captivated, thrilled, and enthralled by Echo. This trilogy is for anyone looking for suspense, adventure, twists, and even some romance. Nadette Rae Rodgers has wrapped everything a good story needs into this beautifully written package.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

Do you dream often? Is there something you dream about a lot? What’s the best or worst dream you’ve ever had? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

HARD TIMES by Charles Dickens

Hard Times by Charles Dickens is the first book I was assigned to read over the summer to prepare for the English Literature 1830-1910 tutorial I’ll be taking during my first term at Oxford. I was thrilled when I saw this title on the list because I’ve been meaning to read more by Dickens since reading A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations during my senior year of high school. While doing a bit of research I found that Hard Times is often considered to be his least successful and least read work. This surprised me: What was it doing on my reading list, then? Determined to come to my own conclusions, I set out to read this novel in a single weekend.

If this is Dickens’ “least successful” text, then I’d say he’s done pretty well for himself.

I imagine that the primary reason we’ve been assigned to read this novel is its focus on the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The factory workers of Coketown are known as the “Hands” and are nearly always viewed as a homogenous, ungrateful, lazy group by those in the upper classes. Mr. Bounderby, an owner of a mill who prides himself on being a so-called “self-made man,” believes that all Hands have one object: “to be fed on turtle soup and version with a gold spoon”. (In other words, to live lives of luxury without earning it through hard work.) We see how entrenched this ignorant opinion of the Hands has become when Louisa visits Stephen Blackpool’s room and realizes that not only is it the first time she’s visited the house of a Hand, but it’s also the first time she’s thought of them as individuals rather than as a single group. Prior to this visit, Louisa “had scarcely thought more of separating them into units, than of separating the sea itself into its component drops.” On the whole, Hard Times exposes the unjust gap between the rich and the poor and criticizes the way the lower classes are treated as less than human.

An important and fascinating theme that runs through the entirety of Hard Times is the duality of “Fact” vs. “Fantasy.” Thomas Gradgrind impresses the importance of Fact on his children, essentially brainwashing them into believing that fairy tales and imagination deserve no place even in the lives of children. On the flip side of this rigid mindset are the zany circus members that thrive on creativity, spontaneity, and fun. As Louisa Gradgrind grows older she begins to realize that she can’t live a happy, fulfilling life without the emotion and passion that comes with “Fantasy.” I think this theme is incredibly interesting because it’s both connected with and disconnected from the socioeconomic issues of the novel. The coldness of apathetic “Fact” is what allows people like Mr. Bounderby to treat the factory workers like they are mere numbers, whereas Louisa’s internal struggle mainly revolves around her own emotional dissatisfaction. The message here is overwhelmingly clear: a balance between Fact and Fantasy is key.

At the core of every Dickens novel is his undeniable gift for storytelling. I can’t help but become incredibly invested in his stories once I begin reading them. His characters are carefully crafted with unique struggles, desires, eccentricities, and beliefs. Hard Times has been criticized for its “puppet-like” characters that sometimes said to be mediocre representations of actual “Coketown” residents (much of the novel was constructed from Dickens’ observations of a manufacturing town rather than personal experience living there). Whether or not that criticism is warranted, I wish to highlight an important redeeming quality of Dickens’ characters: they evoke emotion and human connection. I found myself holding my breath whenever a plot twist occurred (and trust me, there are many), anxiously awaiting to see how it would affect the characters involved. At one point while reading I actually gasped out loud when something bad happened to one of the characters I particularly liked– needless to say, my family members in the next room were pretty confused. The fact that readers can connect so easily and deeply with Dickens’ characters is a major strength of his work and abilities as a writer.

Though Hard Times is not my favorite Dickens novel, I still believe it deserves to be read widely and often. Definitely don’t let a misleading reputation keep you from reading this gem!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! I think this is an excellent read whether or not you’ve read Dickens before.

What are your thoughts on Hard Times? What’s your favorite Dickens novel? Which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

GO DOWN, MOSES by William Faulkner | Review

As my summer of reading Faulkner continues, I’ve found myself continually stumbling upon some under-rated, under-discussed gems that deserve more time in the bookish spotlight. Though a large amount of literary criticism has been written about Faulkner’s works, it’s relatively rare to see his works being discussed beyond the usual classroom studies of As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, etc. But what about the rest of his novels and short stories? Why is no one talking about these thought-provoking, masterfully crafted works of literature?

Well, I’m here to start the conversation– or at least to continue it from where it apparently fizzled out at some point. I have so many talking points that I’d like to bring up, but here are the ones I think are the most important to highlight:

+ Structure. Interestingly, this book spans the gray area between novel and short story collection. These stories are all closely interconnected and almost read like chapters of a single novel, though older editions of this book have often been titled Go Down, Moses and Other Stories. Such a title suggests a sharp distinction between the stories, when in actuality they tend to blend together into one long narrative. I like to think of them as sections rather than individual stories because they really do belong side by side. I also think it’s fascinating to think about the order they appear in Go Down, Moses. Each section reveals slightly different information about the tangled web of this family throughout several generations, unfolding a complicated history entrenched in slavery, war, and pride of property. One’s reading experience of this book would be vastly different if the sections were placed in another order.

+ Inheritance. The idea of inheritance plays a major role in this book in a myriad of ways, from inheritance of land and money to slavery, family legacies, reputations, and beliefs. Generations of characters are linked through so much more than just the blood that runs through their veins, and it is this interconnected web that creates such embedded conflict within the family. It’s really interesting to see how some characters try to shake loose from this inheritance while others embody it as part of their identity.

+ A changing South. One of the reasons I love Faulkner’s work and find it so interesting is that his stories straddle that gray area between the “Old South” and the “New South,” the rocky transition from slavery to supposed freedom. You feel that constant tug of tension between the two in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a reflection of the pervasiveness of this dichotomy throughout the actual South during this time period.

+ “Was.” Putting this story as the very first section of this book was a brilliant move on Faulkner’s part (assuming he decided the order of the stories for this edition). “Was” explains why the marriage between Tomey’s Turl and Tennie was arranged and introduces several of the key characters in the book. The reader has no way of knowing the incredible significance of the marriage at this point in the text, but providing information about it allows Faulkner to slowly let the details unfold in later sections. Also, I think the title of this section is brilliant because it emphasizes how important the past is to this family. Their heads and hearts and identities are so deeply entrenched in the past that they never seem to make it past what “was” to what now “is.”

+ “The Bear.” THIS STORY. HOLY COW. Not only is this the longest section of the book, but in my opinion it’s also the most interesting, important, and revelatory of them all. I became unexpectedly invested in the bear hunt and fascinated by the inner workings of the camp for those two weeks in November each year. This section also brings up the important Native American perspective, particularly in regard to land ownership and how his mixed race identity has been controlled by slavery. If you read one story from this book (though I don’t know why you would– just read the whole thing!!) definitely read this one!

Overall, I was sometimes confused, sometimes surprised, and always fascinated by Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses. This is a text I foresee myself reading many more times in the future as I endeavor to understand all of its layers, nuances, and implications.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!! Though I would probably recommend they start with another text by Faulkner first (maybe Sartoris or As I Lay Dying) to get used to his style of writing before diving into this more confusing work.

What are your thoughts on this book? What’s your favorite work by Faulkner? Any recommendations for what I should read by him next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf | Review

Months ago when I was choosing what tutorials I’d like to take at Oxford I asked my roommate if she knew anything about Virginia Woolf. She said that she had a really interesting life, particularly the circumstances of her death (she committed suicide and left a note). Based on my roommate’s vague interest alone I decided to take an entire term on Woolf and her writing… without having read anything by her myself. (Look at me being academically spontaneous.) Of course, I had heard mountains of praise about her famous works such as A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, but I knew nothing about her writing style at all.

Eager to brush up on Woolf before heading to Oxford, I decided that she would be one of my priority authors to read this summer. I arbitrarily started with To the Lighthouse solely because it was the only Woolf novel in my local public library. (A discovery that made me stare at the shelf angrily and promise that if I ever win the lottery I will most definitely donate money to this bookish abode.)

+ Stream of consciousness writing style. The first thing that struck me while reading this novel was the stream of consciousness style used. Little introduction is given of the characters, setting, or general premise of the story in the beginning; rather, the reader is thrown head first into a sea of thoughts and worries and hopes that one must wade through in order to understand the story as a whole. Woolf also writes via a variety of perspectives, each one focusing on the inner workings of a specific character. A major strength of this novel is the way Woolf uses this stream of consciousness style to seamlessly flow from one focal point to the next. The transitions are nearly imperceptible in the sense that you don’t even realize they have occurred until you’re already reading in the perspective of a different character.

+ Lily Briscoe. I knew that Lily would become my favorite character from the first time she was mentioned. Her position outside of the Ramsay family makes her perspective one of the most interesting and important views in the novel. I couldn’t help feeling an emotional connection with Lily as she yearns for the support and love of others. She views the Ramsay family as an idealized symbol of love and perfect unity; however, the other perspectives reveal a very different reality. Lily is a constant throughout the entire novel, much like the lighthouse itself. Even when time passes and certain characters come and go, Lily is always there with her painting, optimism, and fascinating introspection. She is both feminine and independent, a contrasting figure to Mrs. Ramsay.

+ The lighthouse. Ah, the lighthouse. It’s the common thread running through the entire novel, that elusive destination so greatly desired by Mrs. Ramsays’s children and so persistently avoided by Mr. Ramsay. The continual emphasis on visiting the lighthouse reminds me of Jay Gatsby looking out across the sound in The Great Gatsby, reaching towards that green light that embodied everything he had been working towards his entire life. Like the romanticized idea of the “American Dream” that Gatsby desires, the lighthouse represents a sort of unattainable end goal. When James finally reaches the lighthouse after years of wanting to visit it, he realizes that it cannot compare to the lighthouse he envisioned as a child. It is interesting to see everyone’s relationship to the lighthouse as the novel progresses, especially in the final section of the novel.

Overall, To the Lighthouse randomly happened to be a great introduction to Virginia Woolf’s writing. This is a captivating, fascinating, thought-provoking novel that sparks endless discussion points with its many intriguing themes. I’m so glad I took my roommate’s advice and chose to study Woolf for a term in Oxford. Hopefully I can read more of her work this summer!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think this is a great Woolf novel to pick up even if you’ve never read anything written by her before.

What are your thoughts on To the Lighthouse? What Woolf novel should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

EMMA by Jane Austen | Review

Last year I saw the movie Clueless, a comedy based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, for the first time. My immediate reaction was: I need to read this book.

Set in Austen’s Victorian England, this novel follows Emma as she attempts to set her new friend Harriet up with a suitable man to marry. Caught up in the strict social conventions of the time, Emma goes through all the hoops necessary in order to make the perfect match… or so she believes. As each potential match flickers out before her eyes, she comes to realize that perhaps she’s been looking the wrong place all along.

It’s clear that Emma has the potential to possess all of the qualities that Austenites admire Jane’s books for having: humor, wit, charm, and a swoon-worthy romance. Unfortunately, I feel as though this novel misses the mark on these characteristics. Had the story been written with a slightly more agreeable protagonist, romantic interest, or ending, it would have made for a much more pleasurable read.

I guess my main problem with this novel is that I just couldn’t get past Emma’s annoying, oblivious, uppity personality. I’m sure this is the point of her character—we’re probably not supposed to like her—but where’s the enjoyment in that? Annoying protagonists are one of my biggest pet peeves, especially when there isn’t much going on besides their inner thoughts. Emma does undergo some character development towards the end of the story and begins to acknowledge that perhaps social classes aren’t as important in marriages as she once believed; however, this slight change was not enough to justify putting the reader through hundreds of pages to get to that point. I know this is a personal preference and is therefore really subjective, but my inability to relate with Emma ended up being a huge reason why this novel didn’t really click with me.

Harriet, on the other hand, was a character I connected with quickly and easily; it’s a shame that she doesn’t play a greater role overall. I’ve also been the girl who looks to others for relationship advice, the girl who feels heartbroken and a bit manipulated by others as they play their own twisted games. I think we can all relate with Harriet in some sense or at the very least feel sympathy for her as she is lead astray by Emma time and time and time again. Poor Harriet!

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about Emma. While I understand the point Austen is trying to make (social classes shouldn’t matter in marriages, the social conventions of the time period were ridiculous, etc.), I couldn’t get past Emma’s irritating, know-it-all personality. There were certainly moments when I laughed and admired Austen’s wit and charm, but it’s safe to say that this definitely isn’t my favorite Austen novel.

What are your thoughts on Emma? Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite? Which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY