Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book 3- "The House of Seven Gables" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The third choice of my list of classics leaves me somewhere between the first two-- I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, either. (Which just made me hear Mitch Hedberg in my head saying "You either love it, or you hate it. Or you think that it's ok.")

"The House of Seven Gables" starts out with Hepzibah Pyncheon (I know, could he have come up with a more awful name to read over and over again? I mean, I get that it's Biblical... but so are Esther, and Sarah, and Abigail, and any other number of names that sound a heck of a lot less like someone clearing their throat), an "old maid," opening a shop in her supposedly cursed ancestral home because she is left with almost nothing to her name. Hepzibah has been a recluse for approximately 30 years, the entire time that her brother Clifford is in jail (which you don't find out about until about 3/4 of the way through the book.) On her second day as a shopkeeper, a distant cousin, a young woman named Phoebe, shows up to stay with Hepzibah (something about her widowed mother taking a new husband.) Phoebe breathes new life into the seven-gabled house, as well as enriching the lives of both Hepzibah and her brother, when he is released from jail a feeble-minded old man.

As the story (slowly) progresses, the reader uncovers, piece by piece, the history of the Pyncheon family. At the beginning, you learn that the Pyncheon land (on which the house of seven gables is built) was immorally taken from a man by name of Maule, who, upon refusing to give up his land to the much wealthier Colonel Pyncheon, is arrested, tried, and executed for witchcraft. On his day of execution, he exclaims, "God will give him blood to drink," referring to Pyncheon. This leads to the belief that the house is cursed/haunted, especially when several members of the family die a sudden death coughing up blood (a result of a hereditary disease, not a curse, but no one seems to draw a distinction...) Fast forward to the current (well, current in the story) generation, in which Hepzibah inherited the home from an uncle who died (and who's (natural) death was painted as a murder by another cousin, Jaffrey, who then frames Clifford for the murder out of jealousy and a desire to inherit his uncle's wealth, which had been bequeathed to Clifford.) (What a family.) In present day, Jaffrey, now a prominent judge, kind of taunts Hepzibah and Clifford, knowing that they hate him but pretending that he loves them anyway.

**Spoiler alert** Eventually, the Judge threatens Hepzibah, claiming that Clifford knows a secret to hidden wealth that he should have inherited upon his uncle's death, and threatening that if she does not convince Clifford to tell him, he will have Clifford put in a sanitarium. When she goes to get Clifford, the Judge conveniently succumbs to the family sudden-death disease, and Hepzibah and Clifford flee, sort of on a crazy celebratory vacation Clifford prods Hepzibah into. The body of the Judge is then discovered by Phoebe, who was away for a few days but returns to the home after its owners have left. She is let into the otherwise-locked home by Holgrave, a 22-year-old who had been renting out one of the gables from Hepzibah. He declares his love for Phoebe, she declares her love for him, and all the while the corpse of the Judge is just sitting in a chair in the other room (ew.) Luckily, Hepzibah and Clifford return just in time to avoid suspicion for fleeing so suddenly after the Judge's death, they all inherit a crap ton of money, and they live happily ever after. Oh, and predictably (to me, at least), it turns out that Holgrave is actually Matthew Maule, a descendant of the original Maule who cursed the Pyncheon family... you're left with a vague idea that the 200-year-old curse has been lifted by the death of the Judge and the union of a Maule and a Pyncheon.

My opinion of the story is this: the story itself (the plot, characters, etc.) is pretty good. Not knock-your-socks-off amazing, but entertaining. The problem is that it was horribly boring to read. Honestly. I literally dozed off today about 3/4 of the way through it... that's never happened to me before. He is WAY too descriptive for my taste... he will literally spend 8 pages describing a room in detail that is absolutely not in any way imperative to the plot. He spent quite a few pages describing the behavior of a couple of chickens, and ended the rambling with something like "but we need not waste our time talking about chickens, as they have no bearing on the story." (Ok, not those exact words, but something similar.) (Even HE thinks he's overly descriptive and a bit boring.) (And this happens several times throughout the book.)

Although there is an obvious plot to the story, it is not a plot-driven story; by which I mean that you are compelled to keep reading only to finish the book, because the plot moves so slowly that it doesn't really grab your interest. And when you're reading a 3 page description of a rug, it is (apparently) easy to doze off.

My recommendation? I know there have been several movies made of this book-- might be in your best interest to just try one of those.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I'm loving your "reviews." This one sounds like I would have quit reading it since I don't have the patience for reading tedious descriptions either. Your report on this book is so well written, I doubt I'd even watch the movie.