I picked up Middlemarch as part of The Toast’s Middlemarch book club, since I somehow had gone 31 years without reading any George Eliot. So much has already been said about this book that it’s difficult to know where to start with my humble review!
I enjoyed this novel immensely. It’s rare that an author describes so many characters in such loving, realistic, and sometimes harsh detail. Although I related to some characters more than others, there wasn’t a single one I couldn’t relate to at all–even the characters I hated the most, the ones that made me shout at the pages and shake my head at their poor life decisions, had facets of humanity and sympathy and understanding. Eliot’s descriptions of her character’s inner lives and thought processes are deft and remarkable, and it would be worth reading this book just to experience first-hand her adroit descriptions of human emotion.
There are no explicit good guys and bad guys, but there are definitely good decisions and bad decisions. Much of the trajectory of the novel relies on the character’s decision-making skills and how they deal with their own self-delusion. It’s a book about how people deal –or don’t deal–with the consequences of their decisions. It’s about how people handle the realization that they were wrong about themselves, or that they’ve wronged another. Some people realize it early and correct their course; others hide from the facts of their own tendencies until it’s far too late to make amends. Still others learn to recognize their own shortcomings and try to do better next time.
It’s refreshing to read a novel that doesn’t end with wedding bells. (In fact, weddings themselves aren’t discussed at all–in one chapter, a couple is courting, and in the next, they’ve left on their honeymoon.) Eliot deals early on in this novel with the realities of marriage and explores the effects of bad unions. The one couple in the novel that has a traditionally romantic, love-at-first-sight courtship also feels most poignantly the emotional (and financial!) repercussions of incompatibility. It’s an obvious critique of the way society and popular literature focus more on the falling in love than on the union itself. In contrast, the happy marriages in the book are obviously based on compatibility and equality, which Eliot explores with tenderness.
It’s remarkable how timeless Eliot’s observations and insights about humanity and our tendencies in love and life. There were many parts of the book that made me laugh out loud, and countless witty turns of phrases that I found myself reading out loud to whomever would listen. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the language (it’s got a modern feel, but it was written in 1860, after all) but once I got there, it was not at all a dense read, so the length wasn’t intimidating. I found myself up past bedtime many a night promising myself just one more chapter.
Rating: 5/5 stars. This book was a simply wonderful way to start the new year.