Top positive review
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To be or not to be or HOW TO BE (could be Newland's motto)
on 11 November 2015
I enjoyed this novel on many levels: the writing is wonderfully precise and evocative of place and time. Clear and rich language, even synaesthetic. Streets, houses, dresses, food... everything had reality. Characters were interesting too. Everything is seen from Newland Archer's point of view and it never fails to offer an intriguing position - as a reader you question what he does and thinks yet I found him compelling and believable. The two main women characters, May and Ellen, are again true to life and to circumstance. Ellen is no Anna Karenina (despite the Russian-sounding surname) nor Helen of Troy; May is no obvious Diana, despite her archery talents, but... The plot is a terrific combination of social commentary (the upper New York echelons, class and gender) and personal drama (how is life to be lived) which of course is nothing new, but the elements Wharton combines are original and thoroughly persuasive and entertaining in the best possible way (I found myself saving loads of quotes to reread). The end is magisterial as it can be read in two very distinct ways in relation to our assessment of the protagonist's behaviour. And that wonderfully suggestive, tantalising title! Thoroughly recommend it.