It appeared for a while The Book Club had bitten off more than it could chew: namely, George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.”
One assiduous member attacked the book immediately, like Andy Schleck on Galipier a few years back. She would report from the heights, “It’s wonderful. I love it.” The rest of us were dropped before we began the climb.
Unlike modern novels, “Middlemarch” does not begin in the middle of things. It starts at a leisurely place, then pauses to catch its breath. We become acquainted with each character, only a few of them likeable, and get a thorough lay of the land known as Middlemarch before anything resembling “action” begins. Compare it to something like “Gone Girl,” and its pace is glacial.
It was my idea to read the book, and as I got into it, I expected disciplinary action or suspension or worse. My recommendation record has not been good lately.
In my defense, though, I was inspired by a review of “The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot” by Rebecca Mead. Mead discovered Eliot’s 800-plus-page book in her youth and thought it contained all the wisdom of the world. She has re-read it repeatedly, coming to understand the various characters in different lights as she ages and her life circumstances change.
If one person’s life can be so influenced, certainly it’s worth a read, I said to Book Club. And, when we’re finished with “Middlemarch,” we can read Mead’s book and see if our observations compare.
After three weeks, I was on page 272. I sent out an email saying it was not likely I would finish the book before book club or in this lifetime. Another member, Francesca (not her real name) emailed “Anyhoo, you want to know how much of ‘Middlemarch’ I have read, well out of 1,610 pages on my iPad, I’ve read 180. Wow! I’m so close to finishing!”
She had already been given a pass: Her adorable grandson is in town for an extended stay and they are working on potty training. “Middlemarch” requires long stretches without interruption. Potty training, as I understand it, requires constant vigilance. Grandchildren always come first.
Another member and I commiserated for a while as we watched our assiduous reader close in on the end of the book. Then one day my co-moaner announced, “I’ve finished it! I’m so glad we chose this book. I loved it and can’t wait to read Rebecca Mead’s book.”
Strangely, the night before, “Middlemarch” had caught fire for me, too. About 300 pages in, the citizens of Middlemarch became familiar to me, and I began to see in them my own foibles, our shared petty strivings, stings to our pride and the thousand ways we turn perfectly good lives into ruin with little or no resistance.
Another 100 pages flew by, and another 50. I will finish “Middlemarch” before our meeting. I will go on to read Mead’s book. The girl who read “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and Shakespeare as a teen just because she wanted to is familiar to me once more. “Middlemarch” has turned out to be a triumph.
I admit it’s not equal to surmounting Galipier or potty training a 2-year-old, but in our late middle age, it is certainly worth noting and perhaps jotting down — well, you know, before we forget it.
Jan Hearne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.