review: where angels fear to tread

15 February 2015

Tuscany Sunrise by Adnan Bubalo

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 195
review written: 15.2.15
originally published: 1905
edition read: Bantam Books

title: Where Angels Fear to Tread
author: E. M. Forster

The book begins with a thirty-something English widow bidding her in-laws goodbye as she prepares for a tour of Italy with her friend. Her brother-in-law comments "Here beginneth the New Life" (Forster 5), highlighting a sarcastic undertone the novel will address, along with themes of society, culture contrasts, morality, and good intentions gone wrong. When the widow, Lilia, arrives in Italy, she sends word to her family that she is to be married--and this action is the catalyst to the fatal events that will follow. In the tradition of Madame Bovary, Forster comments on the snobbish British upper-class through the discontent of a lonely woman and the tragedies that ensue her perilous decision.

I first got a taste of E.M Forster from his novel, Maurice, where I was amazed at how it was possible to hate every single character, even the protagonist. To make the writer feel such overall discontent with all the characters is a skill I noted, and recognised when I searched for books to read. Much like Maurice, Where Angels Fear to Tread involves a scheming mother and a son who held his mother with a certain level of contempt.

What I loved about this story was that I went in knowing nothing of what the story was going to be about. In fact, I've deliberately written my own summary so as to reveal as little as possible about the plot itself. The twists and turns and unexpected transitions were absolutely masterful, and incredibly thrilling to read. The characters were, for the most part, well-written and well enjoyed though I do find fault with one aspect.

The subtle sexism I found in a book consisting mainly of female characters (only 2 male characters) was not surprising, but I'm still displeased by it. A sentiment I've noticed from other literature from this time period is that women are weak of the mind and body. Almost the exact same thoughts are regurgitated all across the board from Madame Bovary to Where the Angels Fear to Tread and so on. The plethora of male authors, coupled with the stigma against female authors, might be one of the causes. Nonetheless, I was disturbed with certain lines that only appeared in the male perspective, like "Evidently she had the usual femenine incapacity for grasping philosophy" (81) and the man mocks a woman by finding her a room "in the comfort that befits your sex and disposition" (102). In a public event with a lady accompanying him, the man "[wished] she had no come looking like a guy" (123). While the last is not necessarily sexist, it struck me the wrong way because I've been criticised on many occasions for dressing "masculine", which is something that I think shouldn't displease anyone.

Nevertheless, the cynicism and the dry humour were two aspects I enjoyed very much from the book. Although the language and pretentious, false concern/expression did bother me, they did not take away from my opinion of the book as a whole. The book is a relatively short read and contains a fascinating, engaging plot with colourful and intriguing characters (though I think some descriptions of them were slightly unrealistic). I'd recommend this book to readers interested in a witty, quick read about the faults of the British upper class and the clash of cultures.

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