South Riding Kindle Edition
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The book is now almost 80 years old and depicts a time long past, and yet it continues to have meaning. People may dress differently, speak differently, worry about slightly different things but the basics remain true. This is a wonderful book, a twentieth century classic, which deserves to be read into yet another century because it deals with people under pressure who rise above their tragedies. I highly recommend this book - I will read it again and again.
In "South Riding," Winifred Holtby presents a mosaic of Yorkshire life in the 1930s, exhibiting profound understanding and compassion for a wide array of characters of different classes, ages, and aspirations. There are probably about 15 main characters involved but she is so skillful in describing each of their circumstances that I had no trouble keeping track of them as I progressed through the book. Each chapter is like a perfect short story of its own, providing a character's background or motivation, introducing an obstacle or conflict, showing people as allies or at cross-purposes, always moving the action forward.
"South Riding" has everything: family love and family dysfunction, selflessness, greed, romance, loneliness, poverty, wealth, sex, births, deaths, folly, nobility, humor, hope, despair, good and bad government, conflict, compassion, corruption, and both sad AND happy endings! It is similar to George Eliot's "Middlemarch" in its ambitious, broad canvas of English life and its attention to individual detail. But I agree with another reviewer here that it is less long-winded and preachy than Eliot (sorry, George). Holtby's style is brisk and clear and easy to read. I believe "Middlemarch" was set in 1830s England, and I wonder if Holtby was consciously writing a "Middlemarch" for the 20th century. She certainly succeeded admirably. Sadly, "South Riding" was first published in 1936, a year after Holtby's death at age 37.
Having read the book, my only regret is that so many of my friends have not. Perhaps the 2011 TV adaptation will give it new life. To those who liked the TV show, please DO read the book. As is often the case, the book includes more detailed plot and characterization. It's beautiful and wise, and highly recommended.
There is some marvelous writing in this novel. The descriptions of landscape and townscape, weather, people, are all very, very well done. The characters, their accomplishments and failings, are memorable. The novel, though published some twelve years before I was born, still spoke very clearly to me.
There are some overwrought passages, particularly in the very last pages. This did not diminish the book's other qualities for me, however. I do wish that the Kindle edition of the book had been decently proofread. There were very many instances of mistyping or poor scanning and this became irritating. These quibbles aside, South Riding provided me with a most worthwhile reading experience.