Alas, I fear my cunning plan to leave review books (Shiny and NetGalley) off my 20BooksOfSummer pile is not doing me any favours (did anyone see THAT coming??). So far this month, I’ve read and reviewed eight books, of which three were NetGalley review reads, one was for a Shiny / here joint review, one was just a normal read left over from last month, one was my Iris Murdoch for the month and two were for 20BooksOfSummer. Hm.

And this one, well, a bit disappointing (and that’s after having given up entirely on “The Accidental Apprentice”). I love George Eliot and I’ve been gradually reading all her books, after a phase (lasting 20 or so years) when I only read and re-read “Middlemarch” – as I find them, to make them last, and I do still have a few left to get hold of. I found it hard to get into this one and hard going; I don’t mind working for a classic but there wasn’t much to get hold of here, I found.

At least I’m now under a year behind in the gap between acquisition and reading … That’s something, right?

George Eliot – “Scenes of Clerical Life”

(29 July 2017, Oxfam)

Like other early books (that Jane Austen book from the other month springs to mind, and early Hardy in a way), this felt hard to get into, especially the first story, nad a bit over melodramatic, although the writer of the introduction of my copy seems to claim she’s realistic, not melodramatic. Because of the short story format, the characters are by definition not as well-established as in her novels, and although the web of society is there, it’s not fleshed out so much.

“The Sad Fortunes of Amos Barton” took a lot of getting past some old people visiting each other before we got to the story. There’s some good observation of our central vicar character, including sharp comments about how a tallow dip candle that belongs in the kitchen candlestick doesn’t match as well the silver candlesticks kept for best, and I liked Eliot’s boldness in concentrating on a fairly ordinary man and situation; her careful exactness on the effect of the gentry turning the head of a local vicar and the scene where the maid rebukes the fine lady are nicely done. There’s a weird bit of random criticism of the reverend’s hair, odd in a book that was apparently written from the life. We hover over house calls and clerical meetings in a style that will be familiar to those used to Eliot, and we also have a fair bit of her authorial voice and metafiction.

“Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story” gives us the back-story of someone mentioned in the first story, and as it’s told in flashback, we know it’s going to be a tragedy. It’s a bit odd and melodramatic, with Eliot really too far outside her main characters to make them attractive to the reader: she’s best on the controlling instincts of the old man of the family and there are some great scenes between the abandoned and new loves. Mr G is a truly, rather Iris Murdochian, good character and it’s interesting to see how Eliot develops him.

“Janet’s Repentance” is the longest of the stories and covers domestic violence (it’s very good on why Janet remains trapped in her awful situation) and alcoholism. I loved the narrator, an invisible but present figure who is there in church and chapel with Janet but then torments his younger sister with impressions of some of the characters. He reminded me of Murdoch’s narrator in “The Philosopher’s Pupil” – how can he see inside all the houses? Anyway, unfortunately there are too many women characters of a certain age to not confuse me, and the plot relies on having a fairly detailed knowledge/understanding of religious sects and divisions which is perhaps retreating further and further from the modern reader: Eliot does fill in the background but I was a bit confused there, too. Mrs Crewe and Mr Jerome are, again, selfless and good characters who work for the benefit of others, and this redeems the story.

So, sorry, George Eliot, this didn’t hit the spot for me. I’m sure many other people have read this and can change my mind … maybe.

This was Book 3 (oh no, oh woe!) in my #20BooksOfSummer project. Find the whole pile here.

Next up I need to be reading “Sacred Britannia” by Miranda Aldhouse-Green (about the intersections of religions in Roman Britain) to review for Shiny New Books (see a pic here), but I’ll admit to going in for a palate cleanser first so have picked up David Weir’s “Weirwolf” to read first. The story of his Paralymic success opens at the 2012 Games and is very readable so far. That’s Book 4 in #20Books …

How’s your #20Books going? Am I wrong about this Eliot?