Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ethan Frome - My Review

Our November book group read is Ethan Frome. I had not read anything by Edith Wharton but have always heard what a great writer she was.  Ms. Wharton was born in the middle of the American Civil War in 1962 in New York City.  When researching Ms. Wharton on-line one of the things that came across quite clearly was the impact her mother had on her life and her writing. Her mother evidently, always preached that lying was a sin yet whenever she told the truth she was severely punished.

It is stated that this impacted on her throughout her life and into her writing. Ms. Wharton had a marriage of convenience to a man 12 years her senior and was reportedly very unhappy. She had a three year relationship with another man she termed , "The love of her life" though was quite  disappointed by him as well.  As a lady of leisure most of her life she didn't have a very happy relationship with the world.

I enjoyed the book Ethan Frome.  Wikipedia states that Ms. Wharton always described this book more as a fable or a tale rather than a novel.  

The story takes place in a fictional town called Starkfield in New England.  A narrator who we never learn much about tells the story based on a stay he has with the family when stranded by a snowstorm. 
The book goes from a first person narration to a third person and then back to first person again at the end.
As I read this book I felt as though I was in Ethan's pocket as everything seemed very real to me. Ethan could have been a real person and this, his biography as far as I was concerned.  

He lives with his wife Zeena and eventually Mattie who is Zeena's younger cousin comes to stay. Zeena is a complete hypochondriac, whining and complaining about everything in her life. She does such an excellent job of this I found as a reader, I walked around as heavily as she did.  She is an extremely depressive character and does absolutely nothing to make anything better in her life.

Ethan does not seem to have the skills or forbearance to deal with her and he is as downtrodden as she is. I was always asking myself, Why is he so weak? and Why doesn't he make a move?  He is so completely  mired down in his wife's poor health he cannot see Zeena surviving if he leaves to make a new life for himself. He is very trapped in this marriage simply because he feels there is no other way out.

Of course it is inevitable that Ethan will become very attracted, falling in love with Mattie and at every turn he is thwarted from acting upon his thoughts and emotions. 

The reader isn't certain until  later on if Mattie reciprocates these feelings but as the book progresses it all becomes very clear.

The story is quite circular with an incredibly ironic ending that I thought was perfect. It is difficult to say anything without spoiling the story and to know the ending before reading this book would completely ruin it.

I realised I had heard a couple of chapters read on the ABC radio and forgotten it as I did not hear the entire book. So when the sledding scene arrived I knew exactly what was going to happen. It was a bit of a foot stomping moment but I still didn't know the final ending of this book so was not overly disappointed.

The locale of this book can only be described as incredibly depressing and bleak and as the reader is drawn very  much into the misery of the entire situation one wonders if there will be any escape. Is there?  You will just need to read it to find out.  I really enjoyed this story.

This review is part of my goals for October challenge (here) .


  1. Glad you enjoyed your first Wharton! Ethan Frome was my introduction to her writing, too. Her novel, Summer, is an interesting companion read. Wharton referred to it as "hot Ethan".

  2. Thank you for the comment re: the companion read. I wouldn't mind reading more books by her. So many books, so little time!

  3. Oh, I do like your blog ... and I do like Tasmania! Ethan Frome was my first Wharton too ... back around 1983-5 when I was living in the USA. I went on to read several of her novels over the years (about 7-8 I think) and a few short stories (some of which I've reviewed on my blog). I plan to keep reading her on and off. I love the way she often marries the challenge of social strictures with moral decisions, that is, she shows how strong society's ties can be, but how there are still moral choices that can be made (albeit sometimes hard ones).


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