Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: Silas Marner

Okay, I know this is probably blasphemy to many of you. But most of the "classics" I read are not all that enjoyable to me. Maybe it's because I read an awful lot of fantasy published in the last 15 years; maybe it's because I read too much "fluff" and not enough of this true literature. Whatever the case, I often find it very, very tedious to trudge through the old classics.

So you can imagine I was not very excited when my book group chose Silas Marner by George Eliot for our book this month. On the plus side, it's out of copyright so I got a free copy off Amazon to read on my Kindle. But I rather struggled to want to read it. (I have not read anything else by George Eliot, for the record.)

On the plus side, I found the main characters to be well rounded, and the plot (though simple) was still interesting. On the flip side, the prose killed me. (I think this is my trouble with most older classics. Jane Austen excluded; I do enjoy reading her writing.) Often I would skim for 3 pages while we got some tedious conversation that was completely unrelated to the plot, only there to set a certain mood, or a long-winded description of a character entering the scenes for the first time. Then we'd get back to the plot, and I'd settle in actually reading again. The pacing picked up a bit more the second half of the book, which was appreciated, but the first half just dragged for me because of the roundabout way of introducing settings, characters, etc. (I truly think this book, had it been published recently, would have been cut from its current 288 pages down to novella length, or at least in half.)

Now that I've thoroughly alienated all of my readers who love George Eliot or other classics from the same time period... I'm truly curious on your thoughts as to why I find older literature so much more difficult to read. Is it just me, or was the writing back then significantly more obtuse and overly flowery? Do I find the dissonance so striking because of what genre I choose to read now, or is most modern literature regardless of genre that different from the 1800s? It seems fairly obvious to me that trends in publishing and writing would change over time, just like language does, but sometimes I feel lacking for not "appreciating the classics" like I'm supposed to. Is that merely a byproduct or lingering aftereffect of my education?

Sorry if I'm getting too philosophical here. But really, if you have any thoughts on the subject, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

On a lighter note, if you would like to win some free Indie games, enter my husband's contest on his blog here.

1 comment:

  1. I have not read any George Eliot either, and I, too, struggle with classics. At least, I do my best to avoid them, and took all the contemporary lit electives I could as an English major, rather than attempting anything pre-twentieth century. Some of that might be laziness, and it is easy to get used to contemporary "fluff" which makes classics seem so much more difficult to read. I have always thought the language of classics was overly pretentious, though for them at that time it would have been colloquial.

    Still, there's a lot more to classics than language, and it's easy to overlook skills and devices in classics that are still used in contemporary fiction. I recently read Tess of the D'Urbervilles and was completely captivated all the way through(and frustrated! It's a book with a terribly frustrating message, but well written), which surprised me because I was so initially put off by the fluffy-seeming language. But it's a very well-constructed book in terms of character development, pacing, metaphor, and a dozen other literary terms I pretend to know. :) And I've come to love Shakespeare for the language--after all, he only wrote two original plots and the rest were borrowed, so it's the language that marks him as the true genius, and it's amazing to me that hundreds of years later we can still appreciate that.

    I will still take a contemporary over a classic for pleasure reading (some are fluff, some are not), but classics are worth a lot. If nothing else, they give cultural context and commonality; it's nice to be able to understand literary allusions.