I have always considered EM Forster to be one of my favorite British writers. This is largely based on HOWARDS END which I consider one of my favorite novels. A perfect mediation on the basic unfairness of class and also patriarchy. It also had great characters and the same type of gossipy trivial speech that can be too much when it is the centerpoint of the story but in a well defined narrative like this with a higher meaning only adds to the depth of the story.
I bring up the trivial speech as part of a character’s development/interaction because this is also Foster’s weakness. He has a tendency to make this as the forefront coming off like a later day Jane Austen but with more of an edge and more of an underlying meaning.
However, it is has been a long time since I’ve read anything by Foster and even longer for anything other than HOWARDS END which I’ve reread a few times over the years.
I came across a collection of four EM Foster novels in one volume in my local library – WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD, ROOM WITH A VIEW, HOWARDS END, A PASSAGE TO INDIA and decided to embark on a Foster re-read.
Well first off HOWARDS END is just as good as I remember it for the reasons cited above. It has not lost anything and this time around I caught the fact that Foster had taken great pains to fill in the side and background characters in even though their time “on screen” is limited.
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD is an interesting story but not a masterpiece. Foster always had a hard time making it clear and not confusing who different characters are in a scene and their relations to one another (and he loves crowded scenes). I lost track a few times of who was who in this book. Also it feels bit rushed especially the end- some of the changes the shrewish matriarch goes through just didn’t feel right – Not a enough time was given to flesh her out that we would feel she was capable of this.
ROOM WITH A VIEW is worse. Like Jane Austen on steroids….Now I don’t like Austen for reasons I mentioned here http://rgdinmalaysia.xanga.com/674304599/writers-i-dont-likea-very-controversial-post/ and the back and forth dialogue and attempt to be clever I find boring and cloying.
A PASSAGE TO INDIA should have been his best book – It came towards the end of his career after he’d built up his talent, it was about an even more substantial topic- colonialism but it’s a bit confused. I’m not sure if Foster couldn’t figure out how to tackle this type of topic or if he tried and was unable. The end result is just not satisfying-scattershot and too cut up between the different sort of stories as well as how the stories are told.
So EM Foster in review – a mixed bag….Still love HOWARDS END though. It would be on any favorite book list I would put together.