Monday, February 15, 2010

The Reef

I had a good time reading The Reef, by Edith Wharton. It wasn't exactly a romance novel, but it was a novel about romance. The writing was good, as was to be expected. I like Edith Wharton's writing, but she's no Jane Austen. She's not witty or clever. But she is smart and she has perfectly captured the inner workings of a woman's mind. But not just any woman - an upper class English woman - the kind with no outward emotions and no real opinions (at least not expressed). She's the type of woman I usually hate. She doesn't really have a mind of her own. She does what she thinks society will appreciate - not what she wants. If she made choices for herself, she would have married Darrow in her youth. Instead she was afraid of showing too much emotion and therefore lost him and ended up marrying a snobby man with whom she had nothing in common.

Luckily for her, she gets a second chance later in life. Her husband is dead, and Darrow is available. They meet up and plan to marry. But out of propriety she puts him off with no explanation - just when he is on his way to visit her. He feels rejected, has a brief, ill-advised affair with Sophy, then goes home. Months later he receives an explanation from Anna and they reunite. He goes to visit Anna and finds that her son, Owen is engaged (shock of all shocks!) to Sophy. Chaos ensues and everything gets turned on its head.

As I said, it's all good and entertaining - except the ending. Maybe I"m too stupid to get it. What was with the whole scene at Sophy's sister's apartment? What did it mean? Did Sophy really leave to go off somewhere else? Did Sophy make up a lie because she was running off with Owen? I know Edith (I'm on a first name basis with all my favorite authors) meant to leave it open-ended to leave us guessing and wondering. But I think it would have made a stronger statement to put a definitive ending on it. Of course I could just be saying that because I want to know what happens.

I was proud of Anna in the end for standing on her principles. But she was so wishy washy and couldn't control herself when Darrow was around. She had no mind of her own, no strength or leadership - only a follower. What kind of example would she be for her daughter?

It's a nice story, but it's simple. It's an observance on society and on gender roles therein. Of course I'm taking this Law and Sexuality class and in it we're discussing all types of theories on gender roles - all types of feminism, etc. It's made me like this book less. Indeed that class makes me question everything I see now. Someone on TV recently called a man a girl, and I became indignant. Why does it have to be an insult to be called feminine? It makes me crazy that thoughts like that even come into my head. I never want to be a feminist, but I also don't want to ignore the roles that all genders play in society. Including men. I know Edith is trying to make Anna a strong, modern woman, but she does so by belittling men. According to this novel, society's opinion of man is that he's weak and can't help it if he looks for female companionship when he's feeling down. Men have needs after all - needs stuck up English women can't fulfill. It's all so cliche and irritating.

Also, I'm not sure what the title refers to. I have read that it refers to something dark and dangerous that lurks underwater - out of sight - that could wreck everything. I have read that it's a form of shelter for each of the characters - a place to hide and to break away from. I don't really know. It seems to have nothing to do with the story, and those explanations seem forced.

Anyway, it was well-written, and I've been thinking about it for 3 days, so her point is made - that matters of the heart and matters between men and women (not necessarily the same thing) are complicated and are never easy.

Next up on my list of books to read are The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner and Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki.


  1. I love Edith Wharton. She's so morbid. I've only ever read Ethan Fromme, but I loved how nothing worked out the way you wanted it to. It was infuriating, but also satisfying, because I like when books make you feel that much.

    I've never read anything by William Faulkner. I know I have like, 3 of his novels, but I never got around to reading them. You'll have to let me know how The Sound and the Fury is!

  2. hum. Edith sounds like a bitch. I don't really have a reason for saying that, I just wanted a reason to cuss on your blog. Goodday (in an aussie accent)!

  3. Also, I think the author should have made a book about getting stoned and called it "The Reef" instead of a book about British Nobelty. Wow, I really hope Nobelty is a word.

    ...guess it's 'nobility'. Hm. Sad.