the random prize for most pointless book ever.
and the winner is….The Newcomes, by william makepeace thackeray.
i’ve been reading it. and i’ve been reading it for a while. and i’ve been reading it almost every day. (my kindle tells me i’m 71% finished.) but nothing has happened yet. i swear to you. NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS BOOK. it is remarkable. there are a ton of characters, but they’re all rather vague indistinct people. they’re upper-class and they run into each other in various places and they say polite things to each other. and that’s basically it. years pass and they all keep on being rich and polite and so vague sometimes you get confused about who they are—especially these devious characters who have two or three names because they’re aristocrats—say, charles mainwaring who’s also lord kew who’s also the earl of farintosh. (that’s not a real example. it’s based on fact—there is a lord kew who has a bunch of names—but i don’t want to try to actually figure it out.) and that is not a problem i have actually had with a book before, so it is kind of interesting, in that way. this big fugue of half-realized aristocrats.
the vague hero wants to marry the vague heroine. there’s nothing really stopping them, except the heroine’s grandmother, and everybody just being very proper and circumspect, so presumably they will marry in the end.
i’m not exaggerating about the meandering fugue nature of this book. see wikipedia:
” The novel tells the story of Colonel Thomas Newcome, a virtuous and upstanding character. It is equally the story of Colonel Newcome’s son, Clive, who studies and travels for the purpose of becoming a painter, although the profession is frowned on by some of his relatives and acquaintances — notably Clive’s snobbish, backstabbing cousin Barnes Newcome.*
Colonel Newcome goes out to India for decades, then returns to England where Clive meets his cousin Ethel. After years in England, the colonel returns to India for another several years and while he is there, Clive travels Europe and his love for Ethel waxes and wanes. Dozens of background characters appear, fade, and reappear. ”
it is restful. i can imagine victorians convalescing to it. i don’t dislike it. i just keep wondering why i am reading it and (especially) why the author was moved to write it.
i guess i started on a real thackeray binge last week when i suddenly found myself reading The History of Henry Esmond.** just plowing through the thing. and i thought, ‘wow. somehow i can read thackeray now. like with pleasure. i feel old. “Vanity Fair” defeated me at least twice, in my youth, now i’m casually reading ‘The History of Henry Esmond.'” (a historical novel with a lot about the war of spanish succession! every bit as exciting as it sounds! but, notable for creeping out george eliot: ‘the most uncomfortable book you can imagine…the hero is in love with the daughter all through the book, and marries the mother at the end.’) (that is quoted all over—yeah, ‘all over’, because everybody’s talking about henry esmond!—but if you google esmond. apparently because it shows up in a thackeray criticism anthology. wish i had the full text of the letter to see what’s in those ellipses.) and then Pendennis. but now…these most respectable newcomes.
* an unusually distinct character.
** there was a reason for this, but it would take a while to explain it.