07 September 2015

Review: Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau

As per usual, I have a review up at Unreality SF this weekend, though it's something of an oddity this time: Double Zero, the last release in the Judge Dredd Crime Chronicles, the first two of which I reviewed many years ago. Maybe someday I'll grab hold of the third one and complete the set!

Hardcover, 618 pages
Published 2004 (originally 1839)
Borrowed from the library
Read August 2015
Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau

Like Charles Kingsley's Two Years Ago and Eliot's Middlemarch, this is a tale of an English country doctor carrying out sanitary reform written by a Victorian author responding to Positivism. There's a chapter of my dissertation about Two Years Ago and Middlemarch, so maybe, I thought, I ought to read this book too.

Well, I shouldn't have. Martineau comes across as a sub-Eliot, or perhaps less anachronistically, a sub-Austen. I'm not even a book Austen fan and I can tell that this book lacks her wit and insight. Take a look at this sentence: "It is a fact which few but the despisers of their race like to acknowledge, and which those despisers of their race are therefore apt to interpret wrongly, and are enabled to make too much of—that it is perfectly natural,—so natural as to appear necessary,—that when young people first meet, the possibility of their falling in love should occur to all the minds present." C'mon, narrator, whatever insight that obviously-imitative sentence might have had has been buried in a blizzard of completely unnecessary clauses.

Martineau is one of those writers who can stretch a small village tiff out into hundreds of pages for the maximum effect of boringness; I could not have cared less about who did what after slogging through the first 200 pages of it, but it kept on going on and on and not even a plague piqued my interest.

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