Book Review: Daniel Deronda

Whilst I was travelling the thing I was most grateful for was my Kindle. Being able to take an entire library with me was a huge advantage - I read a lot of books, normally about three to four a month, and as we didn't stay in that many hostels there weren't a huge amount of book swaps available, so it was great to be able to have lots of different stuff to read and keep myself occupied on long journeys. I also wanted to use the trip to do something productive by reading lots of classic literature, especially all the things I should have read as a student *ahem* but didn't, and thankfully as a lot of those types of books are out of copyright they're now free for Kindle. Towards the end of my trip I went on a bit of a George Eliot kick, and the novel I brought home with me (and have shamefully only just finished) was Daniel Deronda.

I appreciate that it is quite an obscure book - though there was a BBC adaptation of it in 2002 which was a bit of a 'before they were famous' moment, as it was directed by Tom Hooper (yes, 'The King's Speech' Tom Hooper) and stars Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai in two of their earliest roles - so I'll give a bit of background on the plot. The titular Daniel is the ward of Sir Hugo Mallinger, a wealthy gentleman whose heir is his nephew, Henleigh Grandcourt. Gwendolen Harleth is a spirited and beautiful young woman who lives near one of the properties owned by Sir Hugo and whose path first crosses Daniel's when he buys back a necklace she had pawned to gain money for gambling due to her family's poverty. Meanwhile, upon Deronda's return to London, he saves a young Jewish woman from drowning, and despite their very different backgrounds, finds himself slowly falling for her, as Gwendolen - by now trapped in an unhappy marriage to Grandcourt - holds a candle for him.

That's my attempt to streamline what, for the first half of the book at least, is a very disjointed structure - it begins with Daniel and Gwendolen meeting in Germany, then almost goes into flashback to Gwendolen's life and the run-up to her marriage, and we don't see Daniel again until around a third of the way in. I think this was one of the things that made me initially quite impatient with the book, because it felt like it didn't really get going for a while and consequently I never really felt like I connected with any of the characters, especially Gwendolen. I'm not entirely sure whether Eliot's intention was for you to have any sympathy for her but although she does suffer in her marriage I can't help feeling that she brings it on herself, and despite her promises to Daniel to be good I never truly believed it. But then again, maybe I'm just a heartless witch. It's also not the most satisfying ending; without plot spoiling it, it seems to cut off surprisingly quickly and there also seems to be a bit of a rush towards finishing in the last quarter or so of the book, as well as a slight feeling of predictability in terms of the plot.

But I will say this: for all its disjointedness, once the book gets going, it is actually very, very involving, and I was almost disappointed when the ending came as quickly as it did. Of the two George Eliot novels I've read so far, I'll admit this is the weakest (I still have Middlemarch, Adam Bede and Silas Marner on my to-read list) but at the same time I should have known what I was getting; if you haven't read it, hopefully it's not too much of a spoiler to say The Mill on the Floss has a very similar cut-off ending. That's not to say it's bad, but more that Eliot has written better novels. I think it partly helps if you can at least partly read it as a treatise on the treatment of Jews in Victorian England rather than as a straight-up novel, but overall it's worth a read, if only to round out your Eliot knowledge if nothing else - it's the last book she wrote and I can't help feeling it ends her career on a bit of a bum note. I'm also now quite keen to dig up the TV adaptation (a quick search has revealed you can get it on DVD via Lovefilm or for £7.50 on Amazon) to see how it compares to the book.

If you fancy reading it, Daniel Deronda is free on Kindle (hurray!), or of the many paperback versions out there the cheapest is the Wordsworth Classics edition at £1.99.

Next up for What I Read: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the sequel to last year's Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'm already a third of the way in after a day and a half, and I absolutely adore it already. Can't wait to share my thoughts on it with you!

No comments:

Post a Comment