‘What book are you up to now in that challenge of yours?’ asks a lady from work.
‘Pride and Prejudice.’
‘Oh, I absolutely adored that book! Isn’t Jane Austen simply wonderful?’
I stop to consider my answer. I wish I could agree.
I really do.
I don’t know if I’ve ever struggled so badly through a book in my life. Every page was torture and I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Now don’t get me wrong. Jane Austen was a brilliant author. Through her novels she has captured a time so different to modern times… but also surprisingly similar. The shallowness of Mrs Bennett was often hilarious, the serious but empathetic Mr Bennett was heart-warming and the extreme differences in personalities across the five daughters all reminded me of people I know.
But there was just something so difficult about getting through the pages.
- The sentences are sooooooo long and flowery (why was Austen so afraid of using the full-stop?)
- The main point of the sentence is often hidden somewhere in the middle and I always managed to miss it (I was halfway through the next chapter before I realised that I’d missed entirely Mr Darcy’s marriage proposal).
- The girls discuss every emotion in laborious detail and seem to repeat themselves a hundred times before contradicting themselves entirely (I get that this reflects actual life, but seriously, why drag me through it?)
- And most of all, Pride and Prejudice is impossible to read when you can only fit in half a chapter at a time.
Let me expand on this last point.
My first experience with Jane Austen was with Sense and Sensibility on my honeymoon in Canada and Hawaii. It was bliss. Curled up in the warmth of a luxurious hotel room in Vancouver with the snow falling outside the window, I’d let Austen’s descriptions swirl around in my head. Lying on the beach in Maui with my husband next to me, I’d feel thrill of the girls as they won the attentions of their lovers. I finished the book quickly and easily and raved about it to my friends.
And when I recently picked up Pride and Prejudice I assumed it would make me feel the same. It was a similar story, set in the same time and written in the same language and style.
So what had changed?
I pondered this after coming out of my son’s room for the fifth time that night trying to settle him. I sat down on the bed and picked up the dreaded book. I re-read the same sentence twice and still didn’t get it. I flicked back a few pages to see what I had missed. I then lost where I was up to and spent the next five minutes trying to find my place.
Then my son cried out again.
Here’s my theory: Your enjoyment of a book is absolutely linked to what is going on in your life at the time. Long flowery books will only work if you’re spending long flowery days. Stories set in the 1700s will only be enjoyed if you’re not constantly reminded that it’s the year 2015 and you have responsibilities now that can’t be ignored…
I get it. Pride and Prejudice is a great book, a well-deserving classic and something that I’m sure I would have enjoyed / will enjoy one day. But not now. Not when life is so busy. Especially not while my son is throwing blocks across the room and screaming ‘Ma-ma’ over and over.
So for my next book on the 100 book challenge I’ve gone through the list and selected one of the smallest word counts I could find that was also written this century (The Five People you Meet in Heaven).
And I certainly won’t be tackling Jane Austen’s Persuasion any time soon.
I’ll need to go on a second honeymoon for that one. Preferably child free.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.