The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you're comfortable dealing with the assumptions Edith Wharton makes about money and the classes who have it (basically the premise that the green stuff is worth writing about, thinking about, being torn up about, etc etc) then her often-painful observations are beyond brilliant. And what carries you through those observations is this exquisite sense of longing and desire that permeates each page. At the beginning it's more of a longing to escape, but in her later novels it's distinctly sexual and romantic--possibly related to the eye-opening affair she had in Paris.
As I've started delving deeper into her oeuvre, I've noticed a lot of things changed from the House of Mirth onward. Her sense that the social order will be victorious doesn't change, but becomes less fatalistic and more bitter. There's a hint of rebelliousness. Such is the case with "The Glimpses of the Moon" a simple, less plotted but very compelling romance between two characters who, as many have said, have a resemblance to Lily and Lawrence of the House of Mirth. Suzy is a fine person who has been dulled by having to charm and sneak her way through life, living on the kindness of richer friends. Nick is a detached observer who is nonetheless uninterested in directly challenging the social set he sponges off. Attracted to each other and chummy, they make a pact to get married and have a one-year period of paradise, drifting from big European house to big house, counting on the kindness given to honeymooners. If either comes across a more advantageous match, they agree to break things off amicably.
At first their plan works out beautifully, but then they each face a crisis of conscience as the cost of living off a system of lies becomes clear. Meanwhile, the kind of moneyed-matches that might rid them of their mooching habits forever begin to appear.
While the book is lighter in some ways than her other books, even the "happy ending" has a note of compromise and tragedy to it.
But it's a beautiful little book with some wonderful truisms about trying to live a somewhat moral life in the midst of a society that seeks to corrupt you at every turn. Wharton sweeps you along with her strong characterizations and sense of dread and desire even with very few twists and turns. A great read for those who like drawing-room stories or novels of manners.
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