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A Second Opinion?

Musing Mondays2

This week’s musing asks:

Have you ever reread a book and found that your opinion changed?

I don’t have negative re-reading experiences. The books re-read only become more provocative and relevant to me over time. This is especially true for books that I perused at the inchoate age and that required more maturing experience in life. Books that hinge on issues of humanity—racism, sexuality, and morality—often warranty a second and even a third read in order to fully appreciate their meanings because their possibilities do not exhaust. I have selected a couple that really makes scales come off my eyes the second time I read them:

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
This is one novel that reminds me I can never take anything for its face-value. The novel concerns with the narrator, Leo Colston’s past, particularly the summer of 1900, spent in Norfolk as a guest at Brandham Hall, the country home of his schoolfriend Marcus Maudsley. Here the young Leo, on holiday from boarding school, is a poor boy among the wealthy upper class. Leo’s comparatively humble background is obvious to all and he does not really fit in there; however, his hosts do their best to make him feel welcome, treating him with kindness and indulgence. When Marcus falls ill, Leo is left largely to his own devices. He becomes a secret “go-between” for Marian Maudsley, the daughter of the host family, and nearby tenant farmer Ted Burgess. At first, Leo is happy to help Marian because she is kind to him and he has a crush on her. Besides, Leo is initially ignorant of the significance or content of the messages that he is asked to carry between Ted and Marian. Leo is a well-meaning and innocent boy, so it is easy for the lovers to manipulate him. The fact that Ted comes from a much lower social class than Marian means there can be no possible future in the relationship because of the social taboos involved. As the novel unfolds, the love affair imperceptibly shifts to the backdrop, revealing Hartley’s real intention for the book: Class and social stature only justify the doomed affair between an aristocrat lady and a farmer. Leo is caught in his own struggle between order and lawlessness, between obedience to tradition and defiance of it, between social stability and rebellion.

Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla
The second time reading this novel enlightened me that neither of the personalities who adopt the same name are related. So that really clears the cloud in my head. The book is finely written in economical but contemplative and crisp prose. This book presents a story within stories, twisted and shrouded. At each turn of a page, at each switch of narrator, the book challenges readers with the question: is the man who he says he is? I have to flip back and forth to make sure I do not have the slightest confusion of who is who, though it is sometimes inevitable to fall into the trap of which who I think the man is. Once I get used to all the name swap and appropriation, and the underlying connection or disconnection of all the Dreyer incarnations, the book is a tantalizing, suspenseful, mesmerizing read. The constant changes of identities do not lose the way. It is cleverly written, with finesse and attention to details. It holds your breath to the end.

4 Responses

  1. Just read your other post Sniffles and then this one. My choice for both is a book called Songs for the New Depression. It really moved me the first time (devastated actually), and I have read it three more times! It speaks to me as a gay man in a way no other book has–almost like the cjaracter is me. Each time I discover something new, foreshadowing, etc., that I missed the first times.

    I’m not familiar with either of your suggestions–will definite check them out.

  2. Oh, yes, absolutely, my opinions of books have changed on a later reading.

    One example is Jane Eyre: Read it at 14 and then at age 22 and couldn’t believe how many critical issues I’d missed. Then, read it again, in my forties, and had the same experience once again. Amazing!

    Another example is Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. Tried to read it once and tossed it aside as I explain in a recent post in my blog. Then, I read other novels by Schlink, then saw the film with Kate Winslet, and returned to The Reader and I was amazed at what I had missed. All of this occurred over a period of two decades.

    All I can say is, as we age and develop and change by any number of experiences, we naturally become slightly different people and respond to literature we once read very, very differently.

    I’m 59, and that’s what I’ve found to be true for me.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  3. I’ve been meaning to read “The Go-Between” for a long time, but I never really knew what it was about. Now that I have an idea, it just might get read this year.

  4. One novel that immediately comes to mind related to this question is Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. It wasn’t just a matter of missing things. I hated the book at 16 when I first read it, but loved it when I re-read the novel at 21. Older and wiser? Well, at least, older.

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