Another square crossed off the Reading Bingo grid and it’s gratifying in all sorts of ways. The copy of Middlemarch sourced from a second hand bookshop in Whangarei met the Reading Bingo Book with a Blue Cover challenge and shortened the guilt-inducing list of Books I Know I Should Have Read But Haven’t.
That big brain Virginia Woolf famously said Middlemarch is “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Apparently Julian Barnes and Martin Amis think it is the greatest novel in the English language and Tolstoy had it on his bookshelf. Penelope Fitzgerald, my current literary obsession, listed Dr. and Mrs Lydgate among her favourite literary characters.
Middlemarch took me a while to read; it required more attention and concentration than I’m used to giving a work of fiction in 2014, but the rewards were more than worth it. Balancing Act, Joanna Trollope‘s latest, which I read soon after finishing Middlemarch, suffered greatly in comparison. It was easy to read and quite pleasant, but the characters are already forgotten, while the inhabitants of Middlemarch continue to live and breathe for me.
Harry Ricketts, reviewing Balancing Act on Radio New Zealand National, put it better than I can when he said that readers of Joanna Trollope will want to read it, but if you’re not a J. Trollope reader he’d go back and read Middlemarch before bothering with Balancing Act. They are both about provincial England, family dynamics, businesses and people trying to work in their professions, but Middlemarch treats these subjects in a much more complicated and subtle way. Listen to his review.
Reading it at the same time as My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead’s memoir about what the book has meant to her, enhanced the pleasure of both books; a highly recommended way to either discover or re-live Middlemarch and to find out more about what a fascinating woman Eliot was. Kim Hill will be talking to Rebecca Mead on her Saturday morning show on Radio New Zealand National on 5 April.
The reading challenges continue – in a couple of months it’s “In June read that classic you have never read” for A Year in Reading. I’m planning to read Ulysses by James Joyce. Surely it’s meant to be – the action of the book takes place on the 16th of June 1904; the 110th anniversary should be a positive omen for my second attempt at reading it. It’s been 42 years since the first; I must be more intelligent now. Although there was that disastrous attempt at Moby Dick earlier this year. Three pages in it became obvious – that whale is destined to swim forever in the sea of Books I Know I Should Have Read But Haven’t.