Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Howards End | Book Review

E.M. Forster is credited as being Zadie Smith’s favourite author; Zadie Smith is my favourite author; it was sort of inevitable that I would enjoy E.M. Forster’s writing. I chose ‘Howard’s End’ because of this - not because I thought the plot sounded interesting or the cover was pretty (sorry, I know I shouldn’t but I definitely buy books based on their covers). I resisted the temptation to Google the plot throughout (this was a lot harder than it sounds) and it was an oddly satisfying way to read a novel - continually asking myself is this a romance, is this a tragedy, what is this?!!?! 

First published in 1910, the novel opens with the hurried engagement of Helen Schlegel to Paul Wilcox. Helen is staying at the Wilcoxes family home, Howards End, after she met them travelling in Germany with her sister Margaret. The engagement is over as quickly as it began, however, the two families are inextricably tied to one another. The Schlegels enjoy cultural pursuits whilst the Wilcoxes enjoy accumulating property and amassing imperialistic wealth. Meanwhile, the impoverished Bast family loiter in the background of these two families as they interact with one another. The three different families are fascinated and repulsed by their differences in equal measure. The novel traces their interactions with one another, exploring whether these social strata can ever peacefully co-exist.

A star-studded adaptation of Forster’s novel is in the works and it’s not surprising. I was struck by the similarities between 1910 London and 2017 London. The theme of housing, property accumulation and economic divides is as pertinent today as it was then. Whilst there are some elements of the novel that belong distinctly in that time period (Forster’s take on women’s suffrage, for instance) there is also a timeless quality to it which makes it an interesting read. My only complaint is that the novel focuses primarily on the dependable and ever-so-slightly predictable Margaret, keeping the more revolutionary characters at the fringes of the narrative. I guess telling the novel from Helen’s perspective would have been a bit much for a 1910 audience!


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