Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Room with a View revisited (with a bonus scene from my novel)

I read A Room with a View for the dozenth time this weekend and have been thinking again about why I love it so and why other people do not love it so much.

I think one problem many people have with the book is Forster's writing style. At times, Forster is explicitly straightforward, speaking directly to the reader: "It is obvious for the reader to conclude, 'She loves young Emerson.' A reader in Lucy's place would not find it obvious." Other times, Forster is oblique. For example, near the beginning of the book Lucy and George witness a murder, and it changes everything. It's the whole reason George breaks out of his depression, falls in love with Lucy, and pursues her. But the entire murder is described in four sentences. The first time I read the book, I missed it. I thought Lucy had seen a fight - not a murder. So then when they started talking about the dying man and the murderer, I was like, "Wait. What?" And I had to go back and reread those four sentences.

Same with one of the most pivotal scenes in the book: when Lucy falls into the violets and George kisses her.  This is the entire description of their kiss:
"George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her."
That's it. The entire description of the moment that haunts Lucy (and presumably George) through the rest of the book. She has dreams about it. She blushes anytime anyone mentions violets. And yet, in the scene, we don't get a single detail of how she's feeling in the moment. No racing hearts. No quickening pulses. No electricity.

I read A Room with a View once with a book club, and the biggest complaint about it from my friends was that they didn't feel like there was any chemistry between Lucy and George. I think that conclusion is entirely due to the way Forster writes and how much it contrasts with the emotional detail we're used to in modern day writing. Think of that tome Twilight and its bare bones plot padded with excruciating detail of every thought Bella ever has about being near Edward or being confused by Edward or wanting to kiss or touch Edward. Page after page of descriptions of them not touching. Or think of the fifth Harry Potter book and the endless descriptions of teenage angst that made me want to stab myself in the eyes.

In contrast, Forster doesn't explicitly tell us what the two characters are thinking. Instead, we are expected to fill in the gaps with what we've observed and what we've imagined.

I loved Twilight. Despite its terrible cliched prose, I basked in the excruciatingly detailed descriptions of them not touching. And yet it's the violets that get my heart racing. In my mind, it's the ultimate romantic scene...
"At the same moment, the ground gave way, and with a cry she fell out of the wood. Light and beauty enveloped her. She had fallen on to a little open terrace, which was covered with violets from end to end....Standing at its brink, like a swimmer who prepares, was the good man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he was alone."
Re-reading this yesterday, I realized that I had put this scene in my own novel. It was inadvertent, but it's there - apparently at this point so much a part of my subconscious that when I tried to imagine the perfect romantic moment where a girl is kissed by a boy she kind of has a crush on but is in a bit of a muddle about, I put them on a natural terrace and created a still, quiet mood and the girl has a look on her face that gives the boy a reason to gather his courage and then...
He paused, looking straight at her, and Emma realized something was about to happen, something she wasn’t sure she wanted to face.
A shimmering silence enveloped them, a fragile stillness like a glass blanket. Emma was afraid to breath as Will bent hesitantly toward her, his eyes opened wide, staring straight into hers. At the last second, she closed her eyes and met his lips. A roar like a rushing waterfall filled her ears, a sound so loud that several seconds passed before she heard the chant in her head: I'm kissing Will. I'm kissing Will. I'm kissing Will. And then conscious thought broke through, and the chant turned into a shout that surged over the raging in her ears: I'm kissing Will! 
“Thomas!” she cried, breaking free from the kiss but still unconsciously clinging to Will. His eyes snapped open, and he looked at her with a mixture of surprise and eager expectation on his flushed face. 
“Thomas,” she said again. “Thomas. I'm dating Thomas.”
The perfect scene. The perfect view. Those glorious muddles. Without a doubt, my favorite book.


  1. So fun to read a snippet of your book!

  2. So when you describe A Room with a View, you make the book sound so interesting. I wish I could have been in your book club when you read it, maybe it would have made me like/appreciate the book better.


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