Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Title Three: A Room With A View by E.M. Forster

I've had this book floating around for about eight years, and I never read it. I felt like I should read it, because it was listed as one of the top 100 English language novels of the 20th century or somesuch, but I never got around to it. So, I did the one thing that I knew would make me read it: I made it my cigarette book.

What the hell is a cigarette book, you ask? It's the book I read when I smoke cigarettes. Kind of how some people have bedtime books or bathroom books or what have you. Whenever I have a cigarette (at home, not while driving or at a bar) I need to multitask, so I read. At least the reading part won't give me lung cancer. (And please spare me the warnings; I read the box.)

Let's go back to the book. I wish I didn't have to. Please don't make me read this ever again. Eating A Room With A View would probably be more interesting and palatable than reading it was. Lucy Honeychurch goes on a tour of Italy with her spinster cousin Charlotte as chaperone. In their pensione they meet several drawing-room type characters, including a certain Mr Emerson and his son George. Lucy and Charlotte's rooms have no view, but the Emersons' rooms do, so the gentlemen propose a switch, since ladies like to look at things. There are several pages worth of British babble and blather, mostly on the part of Charlotte, about the impropriety of accepting rooms from gentlemen and blahblahblahwhatevercakes. Over the next few days, Lucy and Charlotte's sightseeing path crosses with other pensioners, including Mr Beebe, Lucy's pastor back home in England; Miss Lavish, a tacky old lady writing a novel; someone named Mr Eager, who seems pointless to me; the Misses Alan, a pair of spinster sisters; and the Emersons, of course.

There are a murder by a fountain, postcards, a carriage ride, the River Arno, violets in the countryside, and a kiss. George kisses Lucy when he is overcome by her beauty against a field of violets. They are seen by Charlotte, the dried-up old prune, who begs Lucy to tell no one (since Charlotte, as chaperone, would be blamed for the loss of Lucy's virtue and OH MY GOD, we get it). Lucy decides that she cannot stay in Florence and goes to Rome, where a Mrs. Vyse and her son Cecil are visiting.

The novel brings us back to the pastoral Eden of British suburbia, centered on Lucy's home, Windy Corner, where she lives with her widowed mother and 19-year-old brother Freddy. Tennis, tea, piano-playing, gossip, gardening, and visiting all take place. It's all veddy, veddy English. Lucy has managed to get herself engaged to Cecil; no one likes Cecil, including Lucy (though she doesn't know it yet), because he's a pretentious bore (and a boor), but it's a good match, so everyone is congenial. When they go visiting, Cecil is rude; country life is too quaint and boring for him. He proceeds to mold Lucy into his version of what a woman should be, and it looks as though they will be married in January and I will be released from this waste of a tree, but some deus ex machina brings tenants to a vacant house in town - not the "Miss Alans" [sic] as was originally intended, but the Emersons! Duh-dun!

Moving along. Cecil is condescending and obnoxious, Pruny Charlotte comes to visit and gets in everyone's way, like that annoying relative who comes for holiday dinners and apologizes all over the place for being a bother while secretly hiding dinner rolls in her purse, and George comes over to play tennis with Freddy. Cecil reads a book aloud, which turns out to be the story of Lucy and George's Italian indescretions, written and published by Miss Lavish under a pseudonym. Lucy realizes that Pruny Charlotte told Miss Lavish everything, George kisses Lucy again and declares his love by a hedge, Lucy realizes that she doesn't love Cecil because he wants her to be someone she isn't and breaks off the engagement. Everyone is delighted by the news, including Mr Beebe, because no one likes Cecil. Lucy decides to travel to Greece with the Alan sisters to get away from Windy Corner and George, but a chance encounter with Mr Emerson in the rectory library (seriously) reveals that the Emersons are moving to London because George has "gone under" with his unrequited love for Lucy and cannot stand to be reminded of her when she swans off with Cecil. By the by, nobody outside of the family knows yet that the engagement is off, for some stiff-upper-lip reason. Lucy figures out that she loves George and that Pruny Charlotte engineered the whole thing out of misplaced guilt, or something like that. The book ends with Lucy and George married, in Italy, with none of Lucy's family or friends speaking to her because they disapprove of the match, in British fashion, but Lucy and George don't care because they are IN LOVE, and that is all that matters. The whole point is that Lucy only ever pictured Cecil in a drawing room with no windows, but George gives her the view. I need some Tylenol because the anvils have given me a killer headache.

I want you to know that I love all things British. I love British books, and television dramas, and chat shows. I love saying "chips" instead of "fries" and I have always wanted to visit the UK. England, Wales, Scotland, the whole of it. I want to walk on moors and eat teacakes and see Westminster Abbey and ride in a black cab. However, I do not ever want to have to read this "pointless, repetitious, and exceedingly dull" (to quote David Tennant in a Children in Need sketch) piece of fiction again.

It's time to find a new cigarette book.


Julie said...

Aww, I loved this book in college. Now I'll have to reread it and see if I feel the same way.

jamiepants said...

This is just a comment so you can stop whining on facebook about people not reading your blog...

Pajibagirl said...

I can just feel the love behind that, Jamie.