It seems I have far less stamina than before, when it comes to finishing books I don’t like, even when they are my own readalong choices. While I did finish this novel, I must admit I read large portions of it diagonally, after having suffered through the first 15o pages. I’m not quite sure why I disliked March so much, I only know I did.
March tells the imagined story of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The father of the four girls has joined the Northern troops as a chaplain. The father is the narrator of the book – with the exception of a few chapters towards the end, which are told by his wife. Many of the chapters start with a letter to his wife, then they describe things that happen in the present and move back to the past, showing how March developed a sensibility for the cause or how he became an abolitionist.
As a young man, March toured the South as a peddler and that’s how he came into contact with Grace, a very cultivated and intelligent slave. Together they wanted to teach a young girl to read and write, an undertaking that had fatal consequences. March falls in love with Grace and when he meets her again, later in the book, now a married man and father, it puts a lot of emotional pressure on him.
For the creation of the character March, Geraldine Brooks used the biography of Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson Alcott. She introduces real characters like Emerson and Thoreau and the militant abolitionist John Brown. Introducing real characters, giving March the biography of a real person, could have made this book very authentic, but for me that’s what made it artificial and turned it into a pamphlet.
The many scenes leading to March’s awareness of the mistreatment of slaves and the stories that took place during the war, are harrowing and described in great detail, but they didn’t work for me either because of the voice. The biggest problem I had with this book was the voice. The tone was that of a goody-goody and often mawkish and preachy. At no time did I have the feeling of being transported to 19th Century America, but I never forgot that I read a book written by a 21st Century author with all the sensibilities of our time, with our thoughts, feelings and outrage about slavery. I’m sure that people who fought against slavery at the time, were outraged as well, still, it didn’t ring true. What diminished the message in this book was the combination of anti-slavery views and transcendentalist beliefs, which led to a peculiar mix that annoyed me.
Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer for this book, but, frankly, I don’t understand why. The style is heavy and preachy, the tone mawkish. The only passages that worked were the descriptions. Those were great.
March is the third book in the Literature and War Readalong 2014. The next book is the WWI novel Toby’s Room by Pat Barker. Discussion starts on Monday 28 April, 2014. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including the book blurbs can be found here.