I’m sitting here making an undecided facial expression and smacking my lips  somewhat like after I do make when I’ve eaten something that doesn’t taste bad exactly, but it’s certainly nothing I would try again and I feel like my tongue has been coated unpleasantly so that I get to continue to taste it until I brush my teeth. yeah, that’s how I feel about this book.

In fairness, I should disclose that I went into this reading adventure with some fairly high expectations because so many Jane Austen fans recommended her so whole heartedly. In fact, they were well nigh as intrigued with Ms. Gaskell’s characterizations as they were with Ms. Austen’s. And I feel beyond let down.

A word about Ms. Gaskell: I was told she was a contemporary of Austen, perhaps on the later end of Austen’s writings. She is not. Elizabeth Gaskell was actually a contemporary of Dickens and contributed many short stories to a circular that Dickens published. And there’s the rub. I hate Dickens. I do. Just. Simply. Hate. Dickens. She also wrote a biography of Charlotte Bronte. I hate Bronte. Either one. Simply. Hate. Bronte. It’s all so dismal and dreary. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good “humanity sucks and should be wiped out” story as much as the next person, but I’ve always felt that Dickens-esque novels were too heavy-handed and ended up focusing on part of a story that I never found that interesting.

North and South was long: 400 some-odd small print, larger pages. It was extra hefty on description and meticulously written dialogue with Northern Englanders accent. I actually almost gave up on it out of sheer boredom at around 40 pages. As it was the only book I had with me on the train to and from work, I kept reading another 5 or so pages, and to its credit, it did become more interesting. But for a book that is about social class divisions and the struggles within each group to understand the lot of the other, it was decisively shallow. I felt like many of the “key” scenes were simply too contrived. There is no reason for Mr. Thornton, the male protagonist, to fall head over heals with Miss Hale, the female protagonist. They meet and instantly dislike one another, but, in my opinion, Glaskell is never able to convince me why their feelings change for one another. The author’s contrivance to move Mr. Thornton’s heart is really only a moment where Miss Hale (bravely but mostly stupidly) puts her body between Mr. Thornton and a bunch of rioters to protect him. Really? Hunh? At some point she throws herself at him still to “protect” him and the author has Thornton reflecting much on the feel of her against him. So his hatred for her “superior” ways all vanish in a cloud of smoke over a little lust? Isn’t there a town harlot for that?

Much later, of course only after making Miss Hale an heiress, and convienently, an heiress over the very property upon which Mr. Thornton works and lives, Miss Hale realizes that he is all that is good in a man. I’m not certain why this change of heart because the author never tells us. It is true that Mr. Thornton does make great personal strides as a human being learning to understand the plight of others. But that she should decide she loves him on that alone seems, well, wholly unconvincing.

I actually had to re-read the last couple of chapters to make sure that I didn’t miss anything because one moment they are without any contact for a few years and the next he sees her in London and kisses her. I was convinced that my book must have been missing a few pages, but no, it just ended quickly. And that is one of my greatest pet peeves: rambling on and on and freaking on only to end the story without properly tying up your loose ends or making the tying up believable. I feel betrayed as a reader who invested my time to slog through your unnecessary detail.

The long and the short of it is that I ought to have stopped 40 pages in when I originally thought to give up. Why do people like this story? Two thumbs down.

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