I’m not sure what made me buy this book- I think it was probably part of a Vintage 2 for 1 deal (or just the fact that I love the way all the Vintage Classics ‘fit’ together on the bookshelf). I’ve never read a review for this book nor have I ever had a recommendation to read it. Now that I’ve read it, fans of this book are coming out everywhere!
Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for The Age of Innocence and once you start reading, you can see why. Like Haruki Marukami, she paints in intricate picture in your mind of the characters and how they relate together.
Newland Archer (see where Candace Bushnell gets her character names from?) is about to marry May Welland when her cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska returns from Europe in disgrace- she’s left her husband (this is the 1870s). Ellen is mysterious, bohemian and independent- all the things that Newland is looking for. He falls in love with Ellen, but still marries May. He is torn between duty and finding the passion that is so elusive in the restrained New York society. Will Archer find happiness if he throws everything he’s known away? More importantly, does he dare to?
I found Archer a little like Toru Okada in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (the book I had read previously)- he’s happy for things to move him along rather than make things happen. This was frustrating- I wanted him to make a definite choice but he seemed unable to. I think he was a product of his time and class. Ellen, in contrast, seemed ahead of her time- she was decidedly independent in contrast to May, who needed approval from others (as well as opinions).
I think the best way to read this book is in large blocks- it didn’t work as well for me reading it in small bites after work. The prose deserved more than this! I found I enjoyed it most on lazy weekend afternoons.
7.5 out of 10.
I’m curious now to read other Edith Wharton books- can anyone suggest any?