Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: A Room with a View

I was not expecting to be so drawn in to A Room with a View. E.M. Forster has never particularly drawn my attention. I half-watched the 2007 tv version of A Room with a View, and at some point half-watched Where Angels Fear to Tread, but nothing ever pressed me to read these. So I can't say why I picked it up. I started reading it through DailyLit, but I don't really remember choosing it. After a while I started to realize it deserved more attention than my DailyLit books generally get, and I ordered it from the library. Whatever random chance led me to choose A Room with a View, I'm so glad it did.

This is a beautiful book, but I have to qualify that. It is beautiful in a youthful way, with freckles and sunburnt cheeks and grass stains. Despite discussions of passion, corporeal love, and gender roles, the beauty is in the violets and the wet grass at the end of the pond, moments where the characters stop overthinking their lives, and adopt a childlike manner of simple unquestioning action and reaction.

Lucy Honeychurch goes to Italy with her cousin Charlotte, who takes on a sort of maiden aunt chaperone role. At the Pension Bertolini in Florence, they are disappointed in their hopes of a room with a view. This room with a view becomes the frame for the whole book--whether it is important, whether to take it when it is offered. Lucy discovers that living feels different in Italy--feels more, perhaps. "Italy worked some marvel in her. It gave her light, and--which he held more precious--it gave her shadow" (pg. 102). She goes home to England and becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, but she finds that the people and events of her Italian travels keep creeping back into her life.

This book is subtle in interesting ways. Major events are shown less through people than through settings. People are described by settings--a room with a view, the out of doors, a drawing room with no view, a field of violets, and the emotions behind their actions are both described and influenced by their surroundings. This effect is used in such a way that events crucial to the plot seem brief and small, but the descriptions make it subtly apparent that these events are beautiful, and therefore important.

My main impression of this book is of the different expressions of beauty, its necessity and meaning, but I also loved the way independence was explored. The freedom to form one's own opinions of what is good or right or proper, and again, freedom from and in places. Independence is also, in an interesting way, contrasted with love. These two things certainly interact, but it's sometimes hard to tell how. In many ways it's hard to explain this book or my reaction to it. I have the somewhat odd feeling that it's just so intelligent, in a way that's not entirely textual, that I only understand it on an emotional level, and can't explain it. But it's been a while since I felt like that about a book, and it's interesting.

I loved A Room with a View. I can only suppose it was the hand of some guiding cosmic librarian that urged me to read it, since I'm not sure chance accounts for it. And there's something extra satisfying in loving a book one has always heard about.

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