…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and why it’s so special to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from book blogger Michelle McLaren:
My favourite book. What, just one? There are so many favourites. Perhaps too many. The thought of choosing only one book fills me with anxiety. Even the thought of narrowing it down to a top five is enough to make my palms sweat and my heart leap in my chest.
So rather than write about just one favourite book – an impossible task – I’m going to write about just one of my many favourite books instead.
I didn’t discover E M Forster until I started blogging – around three years ago now. I don’t really know how I’d managed to amble through life until that point without having encountered Forster. Howards End changed my life. Reading it for the first time was like falling in love.
Today, I’m writing not about Howards End, but about another of Forster’s books – A Room with a View, which I discovered a little later. It’s a book about love. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the book about love. According to the notes at the back of my Penguin edition, Forster dedicated it to the man who was probably his lover at the time.
For some reason, I’ve always preferred tales of twisted, tragic romance. Think Thomas Hardy; Edith Wharton…stories about doomed love, love gone awry or never given the chance to find expression. But A Room with a View is the exception, a genuinely romantic novel I’m powerless to resist.
Like all of Forster’s best novels, A Room with A View has a young, female protagonist. Lucy is visiting Italy for the first time with her older cousin, Charlotte as a chaperone. They’ve only just arrived and already, their trip is in disarray. Lucy and Charlotte’s rooms at the guesthouse look over a forlorn, grey courtyard. Where are the views of the river Arno their Cockney landlady promised them?
Mr. Emerson and his younger son George, also staying at the guesthouse, hear of Lucy and Charlotte’s plight and offer the women their rooms, which both have river views. But Charlotte is aghast at the thought. The Emersons are lower class, unconventional – how could they even begin to consider such an offer?
Nonetheless, the rooms are swapped and social boundaries are crossed. Lucy begins to spend time with the Emersons, who encourage her to throw away her guidebook and explore Italy – the real Italy – for herself, much to her chaperone’s disgust.
Later, when she returns to England, Lucy becomes engaged to the execrable Cecil Vyse, but there’s something about her time in Italy that remains with Lucy. When George Emerson comes back into Lucy’s life, she begins to realise what this missing thing could be.
I’ve read Room with a View at least four times. At fewer than two hundred pages, it’s a little book; just the thing to read in one glorious sitting.
It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to read A Room with a View on New Year’s Day; the first day of the year and also E M Forster’s birthday. It’s simple and perfect and I couldn’t think of a better novel to blast away the dustiness of the old year and throw the door open to new possibilities.
For a book published in 1908, Forster’s A Room with a View remains as invigorating and lovely as the scent of violets.
An emerging literary critic, Michelle McLaren writes about books at her blog, Book to the Future. Possibly the only bookish time travel blog on the internet, Book to the Future explores some of the greatest books of the twentieth century – with a few notable distractions here and there, of course. Michelle is in her mid-thirties and lives in Western Sydney, in a small house with a pile of books on every flat surface. Aside from books, she also enjoys nice, hot cups of tea.
Your turn: Are you an EM Forster fan? Do you have a book you read every year on a given day?