The House of Mirth: A Review


**Spoiler Alert**
My 2012 literary journey can be highlighted with the discovery of two authors. Dabbling into sci-fi (I haven’t been much of a fan) by way of HG Wells via Margaret Atwood and this ongoing love affair with Edith Wharton. I picked up a copy of Age of Innocence years ago – it survived my move to Singapore 9 years ago but has stayed forgotten in my bookshelf until late last year. I was blown away by that book and once again, Wharton doesn’t disappoint in The House of Mirth. I daresay this is my favorite work of hers.

A novel once again set at the turn of the 20thc New York upper class, Wharton explores the role of the female in an unforgiving society (“Isn’t marriage your vocation? Isn’t it what you’re all brought up for?”) and the societal maneuverings that chews up its victims. The shunning of Lily Bart by a society that was all too quick to believe the worst, left her with no prospects, no friends and without any useful skills that she was so completely stripped of confidence. She refused Rosedale’s help (I am convinced it was without any dark motives.) and she didn’t even think herself deserving of Selden’s love. But ahh Lily, if only you were a little bit more cunning!

And Lawrence Selden – can you think of any male character more vile? He was quick to judge Lily for her aspirations and scoffs (and call bullshit) at the society he pretends to be outside of. He ran away from Lily when he thought she was having an affair with Trenor (when he himself was tapping Bertha Dorset!) and was ready to believe the worst in her. He acts like he’s Lily’s savior yet never had the courage to offer any real, tangible help. Spineless!

Edith Wharton’s writing is so deft, her characters so fleshed out that I have often forgotten throughout reading this novel that this is written in the third person.

On a lighter note, I am no smoker and hate cigarettes but damn you Edith Wharton, you make them sound so delicious.

*Note this review was originally written in January 2013.

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how it all began

Books have always been a part of my everyday – in good days and in bad, they have been my constant companions. (What was it that Jo March said, “Some books are so familiar that reading them feels like coming home.”) Increasingly though, it isn’t enough just to consume them. I want to better respond and actively share my bookish journey, thus this blog.

So let me start by sharing how my literary love affair began. Like many devoted readers, it all started when I was young, particularly with a favorite storybook that I  regularly checked-out from the school library. It was about a family of country mice who had one mission – to go to the moon. Why? Because they think the moon is one giant ball of cheese. It was a picture book and as a 6-year-old, I’d scan through its pages over and over dreaming of living in their comfy country homes and enjoying the lush greens of the outdoors. To this day, those pictures are still vivid in my mind.

Bitten by the literary bug!

That was the spark! 

From then on I was the kid who had my nose constantly buried in a book. Whenever Ma and I would go to the mall, I can have a choice to buy one small item to bring home. We would always end up at National Bookstore where I’d drag her to the the Nancy Drew section. (It was either the bookstore or SM to buy hair ribbons – my other passion back in the day. :p)

 As I grew older, I graduated on to Sweet Valley Twins and High, teenybopper romance from Sweet Dreams then in high school, it felt we were being ~rebellious to our Catholic school education by reading “mature books” – which simply means, books with a half-naked Fabio on the cover and a lengthy description of sex (OMG! what!) and the hilarious euphemisms for the male and female genitalia. Then, I moved on to suspense thrillers Ken Follett style or scifi-lite through Michael Chrichton. But after a while, I was getting slowly bored. The plots in these books are  the equivalent of draw by numbers (not to mention the writing were mostly terrible.)

So, I turned to classics. I must admit part of the reason I did was because they were cheap. Goodwill Bookstore had a huge collection of classic titles which they were selling for PHP30 ($1.00!) each. With a measly paycheck and a voracious appetite for reading, classics were  heaven sent to me. I devoured everything from Austen to the Brontes to Flaubert. (Madame Bovary remains one of my favorite books of all time.)

Then, in 2004, I made the big, life-changing move to Singapore. Borders and Kinokuniya carried an impressively wide catalogue which deeply fed my appetite. (Not to mention, a wide collection at the Public Library!)

And so continues my tireless bookish journey.