The second book in my reading challenge was written in the year of my birth, and won the National Book Award the following year, 1980. I should start by saying that I’ve never (to my knowledge) seen the film but somehow, perhaps through that strange way that the fact of having lived for a while gives you, I already knew what Sophie’s terrible choice had been. But this book is about so much more than that one moment… it would have to be: it’s nearly 600 pages long.
The beauty of an eBook is that you can carry it around with you without worrying about how heavy the book is. The danger is that you can start a book without really knowing how long it will take you to read. My eBook kindly pointed out, as I started page 1, that the average reading time for this book was nearly 13 hours. I haven’t timed how long it actually took, but there were at least two day-long reading marathons, where I forgot to eat.
It’s not an easy read. The characters, whilst magnetic and seductive, aren’t really very likeable. The writing is dense, and sometimes veers off into pages of historical non-fiction that is depressing and dark. In one chapter, alone, I noted down all the words I didn’t recognise, or couldn’t quite place: mucilaginous, vermiform, badinage, coprolalia, probity, … not to mention a reference to a “doughty love-muscle”. At 34% into the book, my Kindle tells me I still have nine hours to go…
It’s worth it, though. A fantastic insight into the North-South divide in America, the social situation in the 194os (particularly in regard to what one should or shouldn’t say in front of the ladies), the universal, timeless horror of what humans can do to people they see as different, and therefore inferior. It’s also beautifully evocative of what it is to be young, in a new city, with dreams of becoming a writer while you realise you really know nothing about the world at all.