Saturday, February 27, 2010

Erewhon by Samuel Butler

Continuing my six book series on Victorian genre fiction (following The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton) is Erewhon, Samuel Butler’s most famous novel besides his posthumous classic, The Way of All Flesh. While more of a satire than a straight fantasy novel, the traits and tropes are here, and make it another building block of modern genre fiction.

Once again, we follow an unnamed narrator. He travels over a mountain pass in a land that he refuses to provide the location of, and enters into the land of Erewhon (Nowhere spelled backwards, with the w and h switched so it sounds better; the backwards names becomes a reoccurring trend). Here he finds a bizarre culture that seems to be the reverse of “good” Victorian society, and he comes to grips with his newfound surroundings.

While The Coming Race played straight with the usual trends, Butler uses it as a vehicle to make pointed (if rather silly at times, like just naming things backward words) commentary on Victorian England. Butler’s prose is far richer than Bulwer-Lytton’s was, but this can take over the book, leaving huge lacks of plot to lavish details on the society of the Erewhonians. Over-detailed setting kills plot again.

This wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and not what I was in the mood to read now, so it didn’t get finished. Not the books fault, just a victim of circumstance, but this one will take a little more work to get through. Not because it is difficult to understand, just that in fiction it can be hard to sit through a story with no plot. Erewhonian society was interesting, but not enough so to carry the entire novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment