sometimes witty book reviews
I cannot express my utter delight that this book exists. For years – years – I avoided this book based on a vague childhood memory of a boring grown-up movie adaptation which I obediently watched with mum one Saturday afternoon. I regret this now. E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View is positively dripping in Edwardian wit and sarcasm. This book is funny. I laughed – so much.
Lucy Honeychurch has an absurd name and an absurd adventure as the heroine of this riotous-in-an-hilariously-restrained-way, coming of age novel. Lucy is young, rebellious, in Florence, surrounded by a whole new gritty world of drama and romance – and saddled with a spinster cousin in the Edwardian tourists’ version of a backpackers’. Like the modern day shoe-string-budget traveller, she finds herself surrounded by people and personalities from home (Surrey, England) and returns feeling as if she had never left.
While in Florence, Lucy falls in love (but doesn’t know it) with a less-than-middle-class man named George who’s staying at the same backpackers’ with his father. They go off on a day trip, fall into a bank of violets on a mountainside and he kisses her. He’s a modern man with modern ideas of equality. She’s an ‘impressionable girl’ with a winy cousin and an overbearing mother. The proverbial hits the Sistine Chapel souvenir paper fan. She returns home, becomes engaged to a snob named Cecil who doesn’t like her piano playing and won’t play bumble-puppy (tennis).
Re-harnessed to the English country life that she so rudely tried to break from and about to be married the following January, who should move into the neighbourhood but Mr Emerson and his son – George. So ensues an Edwardian Sensibilities’ Cecil versus Modern Equality’s George match of bumble-puppy in Lucy’s frazzled brain. The match is aptly accented with ridiculous country characters like a parson named Mr. Beebe and an hilarious incident featuring three nude men in a muddy pond which Forster likens to the Götterdämmerung nymphs (i.e. operatic mermaids). The final two chapters are intrinsically satisfying to read.
Short and accessible, Forster’s A Room with a View highlights even today, something which authors, artists and others so often miss – ‘the Importance of the Comic Muse.’ This is ‘perhaps the really important heroine of [this] sunny novel’ and yet Forster also thoroughly the many metaphors and interpretations his title implies.* I can’t tell you how hilarious this work is. Perhaps Forster can best show you in this brief description of his heroine seated at the piano one rainy afternoon:
Her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation. Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer’s evening with the window open…She loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what – that was more than the words of daily life can tell us. But…some sonatas…can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy decided that they should triumph.
To be read on a bed in front of an open window on a sunny day; slight breeze and view of the sky optional. Read and be delighted.
*Malcolm Bradbury, Introduction to A Room with a View, Penguin: 2000, xxviii