Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A long, dull March

Is there something wrong with me? I've just finished reading Geraldine Brooks' novel March. It won a Pulitzer. But... I didn't like it!

I appreciate the history and research; the most interesting part of the book for me was the Afterword as it discussed these areas of her work, including how she used Alcott's own family. Mind you, just because she has done some research, it doesn't mean her historical novel is accurate (she admits this herself, that at the time Mississippi plantations would not have been leased to Northerners).

Regardless of the history stuff... I didn't like the book. I found it a dull chore to read and a bit soppy. It didn't tell me anything much new about the Civil War (I think I learnt more from watching Gone With the Wind! Perhaps Brooks should have had someone fashion a frock from a set of curtains...). And there were no new themes explored (I'm quite aware that ideals are not always practicable in reality; and that there are difficulties in the marriage of two different people). Plus, I didn't like the main character.

He's based on Alcott's father (whom Mr March originally was based on). But we don't see enough of his strengths to appreciate the impact of his, all too often revealed, weaknesses. And he's just so... dull! They all are, except for the slaves who actually have a clue about what's going on around them, but unfortunately they are mostly well-stereotyped.

Is the main character being devoid of character, dumb (when he's supposed to be an intellectual, forward-thinker) and naive a bad reason for not liking the book? Should I be appreciating how supposedly great people are actually silly and pathetic, and have no real depth of character?

Are any of you - who have read this and loved it (like I was expecting to) - cringing in disgust at my critique? If so, I'm very sorry, maybe I'll read it again one day, decades from now, and really love it and have no idea why I found fault...!

A big reason may be that I've never managed to read Little Women. Like most white Western girls I was encouraged to read the book. But, unlike most girls it seems, I couldn't stand how goody-goody and fake they all were. So, perhaps if I'd cherished that book I would have enjoyed reading 'the other side' of the story; seen the gaps filled.
Even not having read Little Women, it was fairly obvious which parts of the story were from that novel, as well as which parts were taken from actual events or the writings of real life characters - a little jarring actually.
What I'm saying is that, maybe you need to come to the book carrying a sentimentality about the March family.

And, I know that she is writing as the character, March; as a man of that era and with overly romantic notions (it seems)... but, is such as this (below) really necessary?

For we married each other that night, there on a bed of fallen pine needles - even today the scent of pitch-pine stirs me - with Henry's distant flute for a wedding march and the arching white birch boughs for our basilica. At first, she quivered like an aspen, and I was ashamed at my lack of continence, yet I could not let go of her. I felt like Peleus on the beach, clinging to Thetis only to find that, suddenly, it was she who held me; that same furnace in her nature that had flared up in anger blazed again, in passion.
How are we supposed to take such a character seriously? I mean, who wouldn't laugh at this? She quivered like an aspen... Oh, please!

One small but interesting part was seeing how Mr March and his wife saw things differently; each on occasion had a different view of the same event. Mind you, this only assists the reader in laughing even more at poor Mr March.
Plus, no one - but his daughters and a couple of minor characters - even seem to like Mr March! And, I must say, I cannot blame them.

There's obviously something I'm missing here. Can someone please tell me what? (And if you say 'taste' there will be slapping involved!)

It's not a really bad novel... just not an exceptionally good one! It's overly sentimental and lackluster with tiresome characters. Perhaps coming to this book with high expectations was part of the problem.

Please, if you've read it, let me know what you thought.

PS - Pomgirl, I will still read Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire. This hasn't put me off!