Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Marble Faun

by Nathaniel Hawthorne



According to the synopsis on the cover this novel is about "murder and romance, innocence and experience. . . .three young American artists and their friend, an Italian count, find their lives irrevocably linked when one of them commits a murder."

This is true, but of the 291 pages I read only about 15 actually have any of that in them. Rather the majority of the book is lecture by the author--I've never enjoyed that didactic, pointed dialogue that 18th and 19th century writers employed, trying to engage the reader in the narrative like some overly-chatty waiter who won't leave me alone to enjoy my mea--or ramblings about the innocence (and later) the taint of the world.

The ending reminded me of the end of the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" when the female lead flies off the bridge into nothingness and left me wondering, "Now what was that all about?" It was so obtuse and inactive that the author had to come back in a post-script to explain what had happened to the characters, kind of an "And if you didn't catch this, this is what happened to them." Another gripe: one of the American characters, the painter Hilda, is too angelic for words. She's constantly being described as perfection and purity incarnate, this pure dove, this untouched beauty, but that kind of thing just doesn't go far--even in allegory.

The best thing about the book was the name of one of the characters--Kenyon. That's a pretty cool name for a guy, especially coming from 1883.


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