Sunday 31 March 2013

East of Eden - it's been coming

Pretty sure I stole this copy
from father GBR, and never
 returned it. Soz dad
East of Eden by JohnSteinbeck (The Viking Press: 1952) Steinbeck sticks (as he usually does) to the harsh environments of his native California in his most ambitious novel, in which he follows the path of two families – the Trasks and the Hamiltons – as they face tragedy, love, evil, hope, glory, and most everything else. 

Before the blogging days, before GBR, I’d go through phases. I’d get into a specific type of book or a specific author, and stick with them for months. I had a Russian phase. A Graham Greene phase. A Bernard Cornwell phase. And then there was John Steinbeck. Ahhhh, Steiny. The Steinmeister General. Jonny Steiner.

Yeah, I enjoyed my Steinbeck phase. It started ingloriously with Grapes of Wrath (which I trudged through, grumpily and with difficulty). But then, for reasons I forget, I persevered and picked up East of Eden. And I got a little bit excited.

Which is an odd word to use for Steinbeck. He’s not what you’d call an exciting writer. East of Eden is an epic. It doesn’t race along, but neither did it drag like Grapes of Wrath did for me. 

In East of Eden, Steinbeck creates a stage with such vast potential and such deep meaning that the slightest plot developments come laden with meaning. His characters are the brooding type, but with cores that he reveals to you with such subtle clarity that they become so big and so real. I just got so damn drawn in to this. Happily trapped in Steinbeck’s whirlwind.

There’s a “big questions” aspect to this as well. To all the Steinbeck I’ve read actually. There’s a strong (but not overwhelming) thread of philosophy and theology to the arcs he creates. He doesn’t let it overtake the story; doesn’t allow his exploration of massive themes to harm the integrity of his characters and his plot. But it’s there, and it’s compelling, and it’s often beautiful.

There was one bit in particular, a whole page and a bit which I ended up underlining and reading back again and again. I recently got a bit upset when I realised that Mumford and Sons were also a fan of this section and expropriated the central word – Timshel – as an album name or some such thing (I don’t know exactly, I’m not massively down with the 6Music crowd, as you may have guessed). I felt as if I’d lost ownership of this whole section. Like it wasn’t a secret on my bookshelf that only I loved anymore. Which is dumb. This is Steinbeck. He’s a little bit famous, and I’m certain the whole Timshel thing has been debated and discussed a million times over by a million people.

But that’s the point. East of Eden absorbs you in a world that you feel privileged to be in. Steinbeck relates an entire landscape, and a cast of people who you love and you hate, and a story which you feel is yours alone. Yours to translate and find meaning in. Yours to wallow in. Yours to appreciate and be inspired by.

I’m cutting myself off there. I’m coming over all gushing.

10 GBR

One of the greatest books I’ve ever read. Good ole Steiny, the first 10 GBR of the year. It’s been coming. I’ve been waiting for a week where I hadn’t actually finished a book so I could go back and tell you about this. Totally worth it.

Next week, hopefully I’ll have finished the current biggie I’m on. 


Tim Keen said...

My favourite quote from East of Eden; A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

A great book East of Eden, I'd also give it a 10. Fantastic characters, challenging moral questions and intriguing relationships. I'm interested to know which 'biggie' you are currently reading.

Gav Collins said...

Thanks Tim! Love it.

Currently reading Capital by John Lanchester. 600ish pages, finished off this afternoon. Thoughts next Sunday on your favourite book review blog!

Anonymous said...

By the way - I want it back.


Gav Collins said...

What? Never!