The third entry upon my Classics Club list was a novel which I had been meaning to read since I first started taking adult literature seriously, at around the age of nine or so. Perhaps rather predictably, I waited for quite some years before purchasing a copy, but I made myself read it sooner rather than later. To say that I was disappointed with the novel is fair; I believe that the setting and story had been put on a pedestal of sorts in my mind, and almost as soon as I began to read The Good Earth whilst on a relatively long train journey, I knew that I wouldn’t love it.
Its premise – as I find with many classic or ‘modern classic’ novels – is fascinating: “In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel–beloved by millions of readers–is a universal tale of an ordinary family caught in the tide of history.”
Whilst The Good Earth was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, a year after its publication, I could not help but feel that the prose which had been used was rather too simplistic to build the levels of emotion which should have been present in such a novel. I expected that Buck’s writing would veer toward the poetic, but in places it felt incredibly flat, largely due to its matter-of-fact third person narrative. Some of her descriptions were rather nice; however, it did not seem as though the same amount of care had been taken throughout to make the prose feel consistent.
Buck’s perception of the Chinese culture was interesting, but I had the feeling that she was merely scratching at the surface for the most part. One would think that as a resident of China herself, she could perhaps have included several details which are – or were – not that commonplace, but there was no real sense of her delving deeply into the history and social aspects of the country. Due to the detached way in which the novel was both told – and, it could be said, constructed – I did not feel much sympathy at all for any of the protagonists, and did not often find myself agreeing with their actions either.
To conclude, whilst I have given The Good Earth three stars, I feel that my rating is rather generous. Whilst I was relatively interested in the novel up until around the halfway point, and it did largely keep my attention, the second half of the story was rather bland. Rather than rushing out to read more of Buck’s work, as I had half-expected I would when I added The Good Earth to my Classics Club list, I do not feel at all enthused to pick up any more of her novels.
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