Rameau’s ramblings: I mentioned in the introduction post that I would be bringing over my old reviews one or two a week. Today, I’m going to start with a brilliant book I read fell in love with last month. A five star review is always a good example on how to render me speechless.
Originally published on Goodreads March 17th 2013.
Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and on into his father’s firm, Hill and Hall, Stock Brokers. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way, “stepping into the niche that England had prepared for him”: except that he is homosexual.
You know that moment you and start a book you’ve been wanting to read but haven’t. Maybe you’ve had trouble finding a copy of it or maybe all the hype around it has turned you off or maybe you’re not quite sure you’ll like the book simply because of who wrote it and when and why. And then you fall head over heels in love.
Whenever I read a classic, I prepare myself for the inevitable disappointment. In my experience, too many of the great works of literature only represent some form of change in the history of written words and the society that influenced them rather than being good books. If there is any true deeper meaning on the pages of a classic, it’s usually buried under too many decades or centuries of years passed for me to understand.
That wasn’t the case here. For every layer I discovered there were at least two I missed and there’s nothing I love better than subtle complexity, obvious to see for those who’d only look.
It wasn’t just the story describing and showing what life was like a hundred years ago for a young man, what it was like to fall in love and know it could cost him everything, it was the writing I fell in love with. The way Forster uses words to say exactly what he means to and more. How elegant it is.
Maurice was written on the cusp of The Great War and it tells a story of a world long since lost. It shows a young man growing up to take his place in society as he’s expected, and finding himself fundamentally queer in a time when homosexuality was still a crime in Britain. That law is the reason the manuscript remained unpublished for 57 years until after Forster’s death.
I wasn’t even recommended the book; it was the film I saw raved about. When I have the option, I usually prefer to read the book first and see the film second. Having now both read the book and seen the film, I have to say I prefer Forster’s words over the acting of James Wilby, Hugh Grant, and Rupert Graves. And I liked the casting despite Wilby being nothing like the Maurice I imagined until that last scene with Grant.
You’ll notice that I haven’t actually said anything about the story or the characters and that’s because it’s better if you go in blind without expectations. Skip the introductions, acknowledgements, notes on further reading, skip everything and read E. M. Forster’s own words. Read Maurice.