In brief: George and Lennie are on the road to a new job in the hope of getting enough money together for a place of their own. Can they stay out of trouble?
The good: Excellent description of setting and place.
The not-so-good: Pretty quick read.
Why I chose it: A few people whose recommendations I trust have mentioned Steinbeck lately.
Rating: 9 out of 10
If there is a benefit to lockdown, it’s been having the time to branch out and read books that I might not have time to during ‘normal life’. I generally want something that I’m going to like or find interesting – there isn’t time for risky choices. I’ve been hearing a lot about John Steinbeck from various people so I decided to try one of his shorter works to see if I enjoyed it. (Apparently buying this book in the same transaction as the new Christina Lauren is odd, but I stand by my diverse reads). You know what? I did enjoy it and I plan on cleaning out a few shops of their Steinbeck novels.
Of Mice and Men isn’t particularly long, but it punches way above its weight. It’s incredibly evocative of another time and another place. You can feel the sun on the backs of the characters and see the stream and mountains in the distance. It’s clear that the time of the novel is not ours and that adds a sense of nostalgia (possibly heightened in this time of stay home). It’s easy to read and easy to picture the characters. The novel also has a sense of foreboding in that all may not turn out as the main characters hope…
George and Lennie are two men making their way to a ranch with the aim of making some money and buying their own little farm. The caveat is that Lennie needs to stay out of trouble. On meeting Lennie, the reader can’t help but wonder what George is talking about. Lennie is a big guy with a lot of strength, but he is gentle. He just wants to touch nice things, like mice and pretty dresses. George guides him (some might say bullies him) through life, as Lennie isn’t too bright and needs frequent direction in what to do and what not to do. It’s a unique relationship, but one built on friendship. George looks after Lennie, and Lennie trusts George completely.
Once the pair get to the ranch, they meet the like-minded Candy, who shares their dream of a place to live. Here, there are also a number of marginalised characters reflecting the time period. Curley’s wife doesn’t get a name and she’s described as trouble by the other men. She’s bored and lonely. Crooks lives in a shed on his own because of the colour of his skin and is bitter about the way he’s been treated by others. The only one to make a connection with these characters is Lennie, who is also on the outer of society. It’s hard not to like or empathise with Lennie, as he doesn’t understand his strength or the implications. And the ending? If you don’t know it, prepare to be shocked. Then prepare to think of how it could have ended instead. Who is right and who is wrong? Steinbeck knows how to twist the knife after creating such memorable characters in this short novel. That’s why I’m going back for more of his work – he’s got the power to break the reader’s heart.