It’s been a good while since I’ve read something that has delighted me quite so thoroughly as Jane Austen’s Emma— I was surprised how deeply satisfying it was to simply be strung along through multiple messy tangents, knowing full well from page one that by the closing paragraph all the major characters would be matched in matrimony with a tidy, symmetrical inevitableness. But if in retrospect the overarching storylines seem remarkably contrived, Austen has a remarkable, perhaps unparalleled gift for fleshing out her narrative skeleton with an insatiable eye for the subtle nuances of places, faces, social habits and posturings, obscured motives and emotions… and assembling all these things and endlessly embroidering them with unexpected little details she conjures up something remarkable, something that shouldn’t remotely resemble “real life,” but somehow, amazingly, does.
I’m not sure if Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty has the “air of the classic” that some of the quoted reviewers on the back cover trumpet, but it’s an engrossing read, if never quite as sexy as it constantly promises to be. The comparisons to Henry James are certainly apt (he is certainly invoked and quoted enough), with a striking similarity to the master’s broad expanse and meticulously analyzed social observation, and the tragic denouement, while certainly expected, still manages to pack quite a punch.
Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes is certainly as romantic and wistfully nostalgic as a great “remembering lost adolescence” novel should be, but I’ll admit I’m just a tad baffled by its reputation as one of the the great French novels. For books in a similar vein, I vastly prefer Hartley’s The Go-Between.