The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
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August 14, 2012

The Age of Desire

Sigh. I'm finding myself very hard to please sometimes.  The Age of Desire, Jennie Fields' retelling of the friendship between Edith Wharton and her governess-later-secretary Anna Bahlmann, and of EW's affair with journalist Morton Fullerton, is the kind of book I always hope to find on the library's new book shelves or on someone's blog, the kind of book I can't wait to read. So it's sad for me that it''s the kind of book I want to just finish.

I felt a little like the Edith Wharton portrayed in the book:  cross, never satisfied, sometimes harsh, longing for something different. There were so many very positive reviews online, so maybe I'm missing something.  Maybe it's because none of the characters -- self-centered Edith, self-effacing Anna, creepy Fullerton, sad Teddy Wharton, except maybe Henry James -- is very likable or sympathetic.  (By some accounts, Edith Wharton wasn't very likable, so it's possible that that part rings true.)  At times, the writing didn't appeal to me either.  Too many images, details, metaphors, unnecessary descriptions, famous names, allusions.  A row of trees at The Mount is "Epic. Childlike.' (huh?)  I'm glad I read this book and I did enjoy parts of it.  I guess I just wanted this book to be better, because the premise was so wonderful. If you read it, I'll be very interested to know what you think.

I just saw that a new book of EW's letters to Anna Bahlmann is about to come in for me at the library,  It will be interesting to read them, to see how these women come across there, and to go back to the biography I was reading to see how this time in her life is described.


Bellezza said...

Looks like it's time for a Hemingway novel for you: short and to the point! Which, is so completely yearn for myself many times.

I've seen this book around the blog-o-sphere, but as I know nothing of Edith Wharton (such an embarrassment) I haven't felt inclined to pick it up. I'm glad for your review because that feeling is only compouned by a blogger I trust: you.

Vintage Reading said...

I always think that if a book is described as a retelling it had better be good. So easy to get it wrong. Shame this didn't quite hit the mark.

FleurFisher said...

Oh dear, how disappointing. I have the book of letters on order from my library so let's hope that reading the original words is a happier experience.

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