It’s no secret that, unlike Virginia Woolf, I’m not a fan of George Eliot. Hell, I often think she hid behind a pseudonym not because of the rampant sexism of the time (although that undoubtedly existed), but because she wanted to avoid destroying the cause of female writing forever. Also, if she proved that women are capable of writing the worst drivel, she would have had to spend the rest of her life avoiding the vengeful ghost of Jane Austen.
Having said that, I’m happy to report that Silas Marner isn’t as bad as Middlemarch. Much of that has to do with the fact that it’s a much shorter book, of course–I’ve found that Eliot improves with brevity–but it’s also slightly better.
Basically, this one follows the lives of a few country characters in stultifying detail, and reminds one that detail, when not wielded by an expert (such as Austen or Dickens) can easily go from delightful to boring, and yeah, the first two-thirds of this one were a bit slow. Also, the “tension” that Eliot creates is not of the delightful kind but of the kind you just want to stop. Like Dickens at his worst, it’s just piling suffering upon suffering on someone who was already miserable to begin with. I’m pretty sure no one reads the Book of Job for pleasure, so why read Eliot?
Aside from the style problems, this one shares another issue with Barnaby Rudge, my least favorite Dickens so far, and that is the first part of the book is essentially table-setting and all the action happens at the end… years later. Essentially, they both bore you explaining who is who and then say: “a few years later we find…”
In both cases, the second pat is where all the interesting stuff happens (except for two incidents in Silas Marner which I won’t spoil for you).
Anyway, focusing on the good side, the end of this book is satisfying. It isn’t the riotous insanity that actually saves Barnaby Rudge from the scrap heap, but it’s fine. Had this one not had a decent ending, I would probably have had some sort of apoplectic fit. As it was, I was merely disappointed to confirm that my impression of Middlemarch was correct.
Not one I’d recommend to people who prefer books to be interesting or entertaining. If you read the book of Job for fun, though, you might like this one…
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Love and Death is available here. He believes it will entertain you more than Silas Marner, but then, he wrote it so it’s not a surprise that he’s saying that.