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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Book Review: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford is a rather episodic novel, first published in 1851. Told from the viewpoint of Mary Smith, a frequent visitor to the town, it shines brief lights on various episodes in the town's history generally involving a set of core characters including Miss Matty Jenkyns, Miss Pole and Mrs Jamieson. There is no real plot running throughout the novel, although things do reoccur.

I found the episodic nature of the novel rather difficult to deal with. No sooner had I become involved in one storyline than I had to get to grips with another. It was frustrating, too, the way characters dipped in and out of the novel. Nevertheless, other people may see this as a strength of the book - you can pick it up, read a few chapters, put it down and then start a brand new section when you're ready. Personally, I prefer coherent, long-running narratives but that's not to say I didn't enjoy Cranford.

Gaskell's light-hearted and satirical style is just right. Mary Smith relates more than comments on incidents, allowing the reader to draw out the truths within them. Each character is also perfectly rounded with their distinctive voices and personalities. The upright Deborah Jenkyns, particularly, is excellent. Perhaps my one criticism of characterisation comes from the narrator herself but, then, she's supposed to be a vehicle for the events of Cranford to be seen through rather than a part of them herself.

All in all, I enjoyed Cranford, although I found it difficult to stick with. It managed to surprise me, mostly because it jumped around so much, and I was sad to reach the low-key ending.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

The narrator constantly comments, doesn't she? She has a wicked wit and is almost cruel sometimes.

"However, Mrs. Jamieson was kindly indulgent to Miss Barker's want of knowledge of high life; and, to spare her feelings, ate three large pieces of seed-cake, with a placid, ruminating expression of countenance, not unlike a cow's."

But you seem to identify some other artistic problem with the narrator.

How'd you lie the butter and string passage?

CharmedLassie said...

Very amusing, typical of the book's little nudge towards 'ordinary' people. However, the whole economies section reminded me of something else and I can't think what. Possibly a book, possibly a period drama.