*Disclaimer: at the time of writing this review, I have not finished reading this book, and may never do so.
E M Forster wrote Where Angels Fear to Tread at the age of twenty-six. I read it aged twenty-seven, and keenly did I feel the stinging rebuke of having squandered my young life. This, the follow-up, written when Forster was twenty-eight, has been restorative of my self-esteem to say the least.
Seriously, Forster wrote this? And published it? Voluntarily?
In 1929, Virgnia Woolf considered the form of the novel and wrote the following.
‘On the one hand, we feel You – John the hero – must live, or I shall be in the depths of despair. On the other, we feel, Alas, John, you must die, because the shape of the book requires it. Life conflicts with something that is not life.’ (‘A Room of One’s Own’)
For me, this book generates no conflict because I have neither emotional attachments to the characters nor expectations about what is required by the shape of the book. They could all die of cholera or food poisoning and I would be unmoved, or they could ride the wave of the industrial revolution to dizzying financial highs and I would remain aloof; and in neither case would I be surprised or feel equipped to say whether or not such a development was in keeping with the flow of the narrative.
The two main characters, based on what I have been able to discern of their personalities, are obviously unsuited to one another and entering into unadvisable nuptials. But whether the last few chapters of the book will teach me the pitfalls of an unhappy marriage or that love conquers all obstacles, even those of the lovers themselves, I do not care to predict, nor do I really mind. As for the rest, I can’t keep track of who’s who beyond a few central characters because none of them are distinguishable from each other.
Before I started this book, of which I have now read 89 pages, I remarked sarcastically that the longest journey would probably turn out to be the journey to ourselves.
Now I know better. The longest journey will be the next 200 pages.
Update: 18 February 2011
The end of this long, long, long journey is three pages away. I have only to add this quotation from C S Lewis.
‘That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.’ (Mere Christianity)