Not since Lionel Trilling has such an eminent critic weighed in on EM Forster. The first half of the book consists of the three Clark Lectures Kermode gave at Cambridge, Forster's alma mater, and are clearly meant as formal pieces, each touching upon a different Forsterian topic. The first concerns Forster's series of Clark lectures that were also collected into a book: "Aspects of the Novel". The second explores musicality of Forster, both in his prose (his leitmotifs, strongly influenced by Wagner), his writing about music (the Beethoven in "Howard's End", the opera in "Where Angels Fear to Tread", the piano piece in "A Room With A View") as well as his collaboration with Britten. Finally Kermode touches on what he feels is Forster's masterpiece, "A Passage To India" and how hard he worked to be vague yet believable in order to create the sense of mystery and the unknowable at the heart of that novel.
The second half is a freely flowing (and truth be told at times mildly repetitive) discourse of topics of interest to Kermode about Forster and allows him to be a bit more critical,exploring the strengths as well as the perceived weaknesses (e.g. Forster's condescension to a character such as Leonard Bast). This part is less carefully argued but in a way even richer, as it lets Kermode have free reign over what interests him: Edward Carpenter's influence, the role of Bloomsbury and Forster's relationship with Virginia Woolf, Forster's strengths and limitations as a literary critic, etc.
The whole book is unbelievably stimulating, like having a conversation with an amazingly learned man (which Kermode obviously is) about a writer you both love, even if your own is unstinting and his comes with reservations. Not a page is turned without some insight, some intriguing fact or some well argued opinion to keep you interested. Literary criticism rarely comes this good from start to finish and fans of Forster especially will place this volume alongside their Trilling as work that has become essential to their conversation about this wonderful writer and humane man.