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Over-rated and irritating but interesting
on 28 February 2009
I read this a few months ago for a book group. I was hopeful that I would enjoy "The Awakening", but did not (though it provoked one of the most interesting discussions the group ever had since opinions about it were very sharply divided). The story concerns a bored wife, Edna Pontellier, with a generous but distant husband who seems to be attracted to anyone, especially any male, who can provide her with some distraction from the domesticity she has drifted into.
If the author wants us to admire Edna Pontellier because of her search for something meaningful in her life she has failed with me, and Edna's actions at the end of the book makes this seem a bizarre attitude to take, even if we neglect the haphazard nature of this search. If, on the other hand, we are actually meant to see Edna as a weak and self-indulgent woman, and to learn from her to be more suspicious of our own desires and our ability to silence our conscience, then Kate Chopin has created a masterpiece, albeit an unlikeable one. Probably the writer was deliberately ambiguous and torn herself between these two reactions.
Although my reaction to the book was dominated by impatience with Edna, and shock at her indifference towards her own children, the book has some very good points. The description of Creole society is fascinating and many of the beach scenes, and especially a trip to an island roughly midway through the book, have a dreamlike and impressionistic quality that is memorable.