Thursday 24 February 2011

Revisiting Books... East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This book is so big, it's difficult to review it in any coherent way. Mostly, I just want to squeal things and jump up and down a bit, and thrust a copy of the book in your hands and send you away for four days (which is how long it took me to get through this behemoth), and have you come back to me equally squealing and excited by this masterpiece of a novel. So, everyone has their orders now, right? Come back to me in four days...

But really. Trying to be sensible about this, I am honestly in love with this novel. I remember reading it when I was clearly too young, and it felt kind of disordered to me, but in revisiting it, I realise that everything fits together so perfectly, the real and the fictional combined so seamlessly that it is an absolute joy to read. In the end, each story is relatively simple, but they are all integrated so well as to make one massive, complex (but not complicated) story that really gets to the heart of humanity, God, knowledge, families- almost everything you can think of is included within it. Before I re-read this novel, I would have said The Grapes of Wrath was my favourite Steinbeck novel. Now I'm not so sure.

There is a point in this novel when Steinbeck says that all novels, in fact, all stories, are about the struggle between good and evil. I think that this is especially true of this novel, but in a different way than it might otherwise be approached. The characters in this novel, almost without exception, have to battle the good and evil that is within themselves, in order to move on with their lives, or to try and live in the best way they know how. This is, I think, especially true of Adam and Cal, and if there are pure examples of good and evil characters in the novel, then they come in the forms of Lee and Cathy respectively, but even they may not be said to either be ultimately good or ultimately evil. In this, then, Steinbeck so accurately reflects human nature, understanding that it is almost impossible for any one person to be wholly good or wholly evil. There is a hell of a lot more to us than just that.

I do especially love the little family anecdotes that Steinbeck includes in the novel, including a few guest appearances from his childhood self that, inserted wrongly could be really awful, but actually work really well. I also can't get over how well he allows his grandfather to integrate with his fictional heroes, perhaps because, being pretty young when his grandfather died, he became something of a fictional hero to him also. Steinbeck has long been my favourite author, and he just repeatedly shocks, surprises, and does things differently throughout the course of this novel. If there were 600 more pages, I would be so incredibly happy that I would dance around a fair bit and also set you some more reading (you haven't forgotten that already have you..?)

This is perhaps the first review I've written on here that doesn't really give anything away about the novel (so, yay! for that) but hopefully it will still convince you to read it! Or maybe even revisit it if you're ready to have your mind blown all over again. I have the film all ready to watch, but I have learnt in the process of writing this that it focuses only on the second part of the novel, ie on the Aron and Cal story, rather than the entire thing. I'm not going to lie, this scares me, since they may have just made into a love-triangle style film rather than being at all faithful to the book. It could be a disaster of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof proportions. I'm preparing myself for the worst, but hoping for the best. But I'm not holding my breath... Either way, expect a review of it in a few days!

Update: By the looks of things, Lee is not even a character in the film. I'm pretty sure that means it loses already...


  1. Steinbeck is one of those authors that I really have mixed feelings about. The Red Pony. Oh, man. But then I realize that I used to feel the same way about Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and anything by Fitzgerald and I love them now.
    So perhaps I should pick up East of Eden and give it a go.

  2. Oooh, please do! I just generally adore Steinbeck, so I'm not that objective lol, but I so recommend this (probably clear from the review, huh?) give him another chance and I'll give Hemingway a go lol!

  3. Hi,

    Just found you through the Book Blogger Hop and I'm now a follower. Thank you so much for reviewing this book! I, too, read it when I was much much younger... and I didn't quite 'get' it. You just convinced me to pull Steinbeck from my shelve and give it another go.

    Take care & happy reading,
    Ms C

  4. Aw, that makes me so happy! It's really really great on the re-read :)