Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Room with a View

EM Forster (1879-1970)

Firstly, do you think there's another span in history where more stuff changed than 1879-1970?

I've tried to get into A Passage to India several times and never had much luck, so I was a little nervous when BJ Harrison announced he was doing a 10 part series reading A Room with a View on his awesome podcast. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked this short novel. The characters are lively and fun, and you can tell Forster is really smart without him beating you over the head with it.

Lucy Honeychurch is on vacation in Italy when she meets an odd father/son duo named Emerson. Dad is kind of an outside the system proto-hippy and his son George is kind of a down in the mouth philosophical dreamer. Lucy is probably 20, struggling to find her place in her stuffy Edwardian era social circles. Forster introduces us to a full cast of characters in Italy from the most embarrassing tourist to the most seasoned traveler who's still embarrassing because they think they're Italian.

The Emerson's are notable because they refuse to abide by social norms, they tell things like they are and don't sugarcoat anything. They become a curiosity but not someone that polite people want to be seen with. This awkwardness comes early when the Emerson's hear Lucy and her companion opine about having a better view from their hotel room. When the Emerson's offer to simply switch rooms with the ladies all sorts of social ramifications are set into motion. On a trip to the country the couple kiss and are caught in the act by Lucy's cousin. This act of impropriety ends part one.

Part two is back in England where Lucy is engaged to Cecil, who, to be frank, is kind of a dick. He talks down to women, is really boring, and won't play tennis. Another string of occurrences lead the Emerson's to town where George renews his courting. Lucy loves him, but he's not an acceptable match. She breaks it off with Cecil and decides to bolt for Greece before she meets one more time with Mr. Emerson who convinces her to get with George. They're married and hanging out in Italy, her family is mad but they'll get over it.

Two big themes in Room, adhering to society's expectations versus being free and the role of fate. The dichotomy between the Honeychurch's and the Emerson's is clear, societal rules or be free. Luckily Forster made the whole situation more nuanced than that. Because the Emerson's are so rigid in their screw the system attitudes they are almost as trapped as the Honeychurch's. Emerson and Lucy think about how fate plays into their lives. So many coincidences and long shots have to come through for them to be together. Lucy tries to avoid George even though she loves him, but he just keeps appearing.

Rating 6.5/10: It's a cool inspection of British customs in the early 1900s and the characters are interesting, but not much in the way of plot.

1 comment:

Pam said...

I felt much the same way about this book as you did. I also agree that Cecil was a wiener. :) It was my first foray into Forster and it was not unenjoyable. A well written review.