Given how much I love the film, the equally intimidating reputation of the book and its sheer size, I was a little hesitant picking this up. In fact, it’s taken me *years* to pluck up the courage. Nonetheless, I eventually decided to bite the bullet. Set during the American civil war, this sweeping saga is more than enough temptation for any romance lover.
Well, as openings go, I can safely say Gone with the Wind’s first line took my breath away. It instantly created a vivid picture of the heroine. From that point on, it flowed beautifully. A lot of the time, I didn’t feel like I was reading a classic. There was little to distinguish the addictive, page-turning qualities from a book that might be published today. And oh- the drama!!! With some stellar characterisation and plot that explodes at a breakneck speed, I’d happily recommend this to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily interested in classics.
That said, for those who do enjoy the genre, there are rewards scattered through the narrative like shrapnel. Under the surface of descriptive passages, the shadow of the war looms. From the start, Scarlett O’Hara is depicted as though she were dressed for battle. The imagery is permeated with trenches and the like. There was some commentary on the devastating effects, which had some brilliant turns of phrase, though for me this didn’t live up to War and Peace levels.
Scarlett herself is a commanding heroine. She rarely wields any weapon but her charms, yet she uses these to great effect. Often contrasted with the likes of Melly, she shows a competency that some men can’t stand. Not only does she think for herself, she also knows to keep this talent well hidden. I particularly liked her getting the better of that misogynistic git Frank (who believes women are stupid and need men’s help… only to ironically marry the smartest woman in the South #checkmate).
This is also the ULTIMATE enemies to lovers story. Again, a lot of modern readers will love how sexy as hell Rhett Butler can be. I had no idea why she was so obsessed with Ashley for half the book given how gorgeous the alternative was! Not that Rhett is an angel- there’s an edge to him that makes him even more intriguing. With plenty of miscommunication, heart-breaking twists and turns and an ending that will make you swoon with disbelief, plenty of this has stood the test of time- well, sort of.
Now if you’re familiar with my somewhat *over exuberant* style of reviews, you might be sensing a buuuut… Because, well, as much as I’ve praised the protagonist, I hated her. I know, I know, she’s a great example of female empowerment. But she’s so horrible! She screws over every. single. other woman in her path- including her sister Suellen! She doesn’t care about other people’s happiness, only her own. And this is barely the tip of the iceberg.
I would be completely remiss not to mention the racism in this book. Not because I want the past rewritten- I think books like this are important evidence. However, that doesn’t mean I have to like characters like Scarlett- who are blatantly, grossly racist: scoffing at freeing slaves, calling people the n-word with pride, and telling people “you’re not a good slave” (how shameful lol- I swear, if I was a slave, I’d hope to be the lousiest slave ever “employed”- basically saying “how dare you not do an excellent job of the labour I’m not paying you to do”). Consequently, I didn’t see Scarlett as strong- I saw her as abusive. Obviously, she’s a product of her time and far from the only character in the book to act this way. Rhett says at one point that he’d join the Klan for the sake of his daughter’s future prospects (ugh ugh ugh). Plus, this moment in the book made me want to shrivel up and die inside: “With unerring African instinct, the negroes had all discovered that Gerald had a loud bark and no bite at all, and they took shameless advantage of him”. Cos eww- there are about a million things wrong with this sentence and it made my eyes roll back into my head (for clarification, because I like to be direct rather than point fingers aimlessly, that sentence starts with racist stereotyping, frames the perpetrator as a victim, dehumanises people and makes out like they’re the bad guys– have I got it all?). And yes, this is me with my modern bias- I fully own up to that- but the thing is I rate books on my enjoyment and this got in the way of that. Everyone is free to come out with different opinions on this book- not casting any shade here.
Anyway, this meant that despite the tempo of the book and its qualities, it sagged in the middle for me. I simply didn’t find Scarlett remotely endearing and couldn’t root for her. The consolation one might have for such a character is that (minor spoiler) it doesn’t end with everything being rosy. Still, and this may make me a philistine, I preferred the film. Perhaps it was that Vivien Leigh softened the role; perhaps it was something else. Either way, while I liked large portions of this, I wanted to enjoy this so much more than I did.
Rating: 3½/5 bananas
And I know I might have stoked some flames with this review and my rating- but frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn 😉
So- dare I ask- what do you think of this book? Am I bananas for casting my modern views on a classic? Let me know in the comments!