Saturday, 21 May 2011

EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck


I seem to be reading nothing but memoir at the moment, so I thought that this epic novel would be a interesting change.

Oh dear, never mind that, this turns out to be a kind of memoir too, but of the large scale, mythic and messed-up kind. Steinbeck wrote it as a history for his small sons, and was convinced it was his masterpiece.

It’s pretty long and painful overall, but there are some great parts: a wonderful evil prostitute murderer character; ideas about early home freezing; some quite shocking violence; and an interesting conception of America: ”In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture.”

On one level, it’s a retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel; on another it’s a story of the Salinas Valley in California where Steinbeck grew up; and on another it’s a history of his family. Basically, the book tells of two neighbouring families, across two generations, where two sets of brothers battle for their father’s affections. Steinbeck clearly feels we are a bit dim, and in case these repetitions weren’t enough, makes sure to tell us, frequently and explicitly, about his theory that the ur-story of us all is our endless struggle for our parents’ love.

Clearly, this guy had a lot of issues with his siblings.

Personally, I think he should have gone to the therapist, rather than the publisher, but what the hell, he’s Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck and I’m some girl in Nairobi who’s still in her pyjamas at 2pm.

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