Another month is upon us, which means it is time to discuss another book club choice. A real fan of his
poetry, I chose to read Cummings’ only novel, The Enormous Room. It is an autobiographical work, which deals with Cummings’ temporary imprisonment in France during the First World War. He and one of his friends, William Slater Brown (known simply as ‘B’ in The Enormous Room), were arrested in France as a result of the ‘anti-war sentiments’ which Slater Brown had expressed in his correspondence. Cummings was arrested when he stood by his friend – a noble act in the face of wartime, one has to say.
The Enormous Room was first published in 1922, and has gone through many reprintings since. It has even been made recently available in the public domain, and is therefore free to read on Kindles and other hand-held devices.
Throughout, Cummings’ writing is very expressive, and he gives a real feel for the flavour of the places which he visited and the situations which he encountered during the war. The piece is very of its time, as one would expect. Some of the expressions, whilst up to date during the early 1920s, sounded a little odd to my ears. I was reminded of Hemingway as I was reading, as Cummings often uses the same sparseness of prose to build up the more horrific events which he witnesses.
Throughout, The Enormous Room feels more like a work of non-fiction than of a novel, as it is so heavily autobiographical. Cummings features as the protagonist, which further blurs the boundaries between the two. Overall, I must say that I enjoyed the book, but it did not really offer any ‘new’ experiences of wartime life which I have not yet encountered. A lot of the knowledge presented seemed to be quite commonplace, and it felt much like many other wartime (auto)biographies which I have read to date. Sadly, The Enormous Room was not as good as I thought it would be, and it is with my hand on my heart that I have to say I far prefer Cummings’ poetry to his prose.