Friday, 13 August 2010
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I must have a lot of faith in Steinbeck. I have brought three of his books despite never having read any of his novels, normally I give an author a try once before buying their other books but I was convinced somehow that I would get on with Steinbeck's writing. I could have started with the much shorter Of Mice and Men but on this occasion I decided to jump straight in with the 600+ pages of East of Eden after being convinced by readers of this blog.
East of Eden follows two families; the Trasks and (to a lesser degree) the Hamiltons over three generations. This is an epic book that effectively tells the story of the families while also throwing up philosophical discussions and comments on human nature without being patronising.
I learn one piece of parenting advice from this book though, 'treat all your children equally or one of them will likely turn out to be a bad'un'.
What I wasn't expecting from this book was how easy it was to read. I don't know why but for some reason I expected to somehow have to work at the text but after a couple of chapters (which were hard to get into) I read through this book very quickly and found it quite a page turner. Steinbeck even left some cliffhangers at the end of some chapters leaving me to think 'Oh OK just one more chapter then'. Lets face it; there's nothing like a good family saga to keep a reader interested ;)
Of course there is plenty of other stuff within East of Eden's pages including man's struggle with both good and evil, where evil really stems from and the knock on effect of choices we make today. All the characters are flawed in their way (even the seemingly good and pure ones) and are three dimensional. The only exception to this is the character of Cathy Trask who is pure evil personified but whom I enjoyed reading about (almost like I couldn't look away.) Cathy's son Cal is probably the most complex character in the book as he struggles the most with his inner demons and he was also the character which I was most behind. Cal is flawed and is capable of being cruel when he wants to be but at the same time capable of great acts of kindness, perhaps because of this I wanted him out of everyone to choose to be a better man.
The Hamilton family is used to good effect as a contrast to the Trask Family and Steinbeck was also able to weave his own personal family history into the book through the Hamiltons. Like all epic stories told over generations there are the usual marriages, births and deaths and the dreaded sense that history can repeat itself. One of my favourite moments from the book is when Cal faces his mother and says "I don't have to be you." Wonderful stuff.
Would I recommend it? Oh yes – its 600 pages but it never drags and will give you plenty to think about.
Posted by Jess