Review: Daniel Deronda – George Eliot

09 - Daniel Deronda

Rating – 5*

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. After I read Middlemarch last year, I was disappointed. It wasn’t what I was expecting, I was truly expecting to adore that book and instead it was just okay. But, I kept going with her work and every book I read by this woman just gets better and better. This one I could scarcely put down – I finished the 914 page beast in 5 days and that was me pacing myself!

Daniel Deronda tells a story in two parts, both the story of Daniel and of Gwendolen, and naturally they interweave beautifully. We start in what is almost the middle of the book, where we meet Gwendolen Harleth in a casino. Observing her winning streak at the roulette table is Daniel Deronda. And that is the last we see of him until Chapter 16 and Gwendolen’s story takes precedence. At first it seems like these two narratives are utterly unrelated. Yet each is enhanced by the other, and by the parallels it is possible to draw between them.

The plot itself is magnificent, it weaves in and out, back and forth, and is so incredibly perfect. I could go on and on about it, it was great.  The thing which surprised me most was the thread of Judaism which I really wasn’t expecting, but it surprised me in the best possible way. Mirah is one of the most beautiful characters I have had the pleasure of reading, yes she was a little stereotypical but she was wonderful and I really, really adored her. Daniel, oh how I wish there were more of Daniel! Though he is the titular character, the main thread of this novel I felt was actually handed to Gwendolen – his story just wove in perfectly with hers. Him finding out his origins was a great plot point but the thing that was most interesting about him was his open-mindedness, his acceptance and kind heart; he too had faults but his good traits outweighed them. Gwendolen however did annoy me, she was selfish, rude, and downright abhorrent in fact; but I loved her. The growth of her through the novel was something special, her tenacity, her zest for life, and ultimately her journey in to an adulthood that noone deserves which she took for the better of her family is one filled with pain. She grows up quickly, learns quickly and as she becomes more downtrodden, her voice in the novel becomes quieter… it’s quite fantastic, actually.

Oh this novel was incredible. George Eliot is up there as one of my favourite authors, and because I loved this so much I really want to retry Middlemarch. Her writing is sheer magic, her command of imagery and characterisation is second to none, her ability to create the perfect atmosphere for village life astounds me. This woman is a deity.

Naturally this book got 5* from me and the title of best book in 2016 so far. The rest of the year has a LOT to live up to!

Review: Middlemarch – George Eliot

middlemarchI have wanted to read this book for a long time now and I decided that it was high time to get around to it before I went back to uni at the end of the month. The most off-putting factor about this book is the sheer enormity (the edition I was reading was 924 pages).

Middlemarch is a wonderful novel that has left me feeling somewhat bereft at ending it. It is a novel that spans such a wide frame that you as a reader are taken on a journey. My biggest issue with it is that there is quite a large level of predictability, which is annoying when it is a very slow paced book anyway – plodding away through several pages when you know how it’s going to resolve is frustrating.

The characters are well fleshed out, as you would expect over a 900 page novel. The initial difficulty I had with the novel is that there are so many introduced within the first 100 pages that it’s just dull. Over the course of the novel it becomes clear who are the key characters and then those others that were introduced we see develop through the eyes of the focal character. Even though she was naive, I really liked Dorothea in some ways – she was deeply flawed, idealistic and rather cold in her demeanour but I liked her. All the characters have flaws, none of them are perfect so that was a definite brownie point for Eliot.

I went in to this book with expectation. Virginia Woolf has cited this novel as one of the best ever written, so many people love it, I really though I would love it, and I just didn’t. It wasn’t hideous, it is a beautiful book but it just didn’t hit me in the gut the same with Silas Marner did and when I put it down, I really had to force myself to pick it up again. In reading it I didn’t get that profundity that so many people go on about after reading this book. It does pick up around the 50-75% point but… still I feel that I could have spent two weeks reading something better. I’m not giving up on Eliot, I think her writing is beautiful, I just didn’t have much patience for this novel once it actually got going. For that reason, I give it a 3/5 but with a promise to read it again in the future to see if it changes me opinion.

Review: Silas Marner – George Eliot

SilasMarnerI picked this up on a whim, mainly because I saw it and I have wanted to read some George Eliot for ages – however Middlemarch seemed a little intimidating during my exams and when I saw the size of this I nabbed it up. I knew relatively little about it and went in to it blind – which was fun.

Silas Marner is an eponymous novel which for me was quite reminiscent of the story in A Christmas Carol; an isolated, mean spirited man learns kindness and love. It was also reminiscent of a fairy tale in it’s plot in the sense that there is a man who comes to a small village, weaves, hoards his money and then – some time later – there is a theft; he is forced to mix with the locals to try and find out who did it but this opens him up to the population of the village. Time passes, there’s a brief Christmas-y interlude and then we’re introduced to Eppie who changes things. For the better.

That isn’t really any more than what is in the blurb and, at 210 pages it’s not exactly anything more than that as a story, quite truthfully. Sometimes this book felt too long, there wasn’t really much happening but then, when something happened it felt rushed. It took about 100 pages before I actually felt invested in it and then I read the second half within a couple of hours which I was really happy with!

I like Eliot’s writing, it’s really quite easy to read for a classic. I liked this to the point that I’ve ordered The Mill on the Floss and am looking to find the Penguin English Library edition of Daniel Deronda too. I really enjoyed this, I just wish the first 100 pages were 50 pages and the final 100 were 150 because the second half was just so much more interesting! I really loved Eppie and I really think, had the novel focused more on the events after Eppie arrived it would have been a 4/5 opposed to a 3 for me.

Ultimately, this is a solid, short, relatively quick-to-read classic which scraped the surface of my classic-craving. I can’t wait to get around to Middlemarch. 3/5!