A New Yorker writer revisits the seminal book of her youth - Middlemarch - and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.
Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch,regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage, and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not.
In this wise and revealing work of biography, reportage, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece - the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure - and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of the author herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.
I haven't actually finished this book but I decided to write a review because I am enjoying it so much. I look often to see how many people have left reviews for books while I am reading them because I like to know if others have had the same experience.
In this case there don't seem to be many Audible readers so far, and I don't find the Amazon reviews very satisfying since the quality of the narrator is such an important part of the experience for me.
From the minute I read about this book's publication I have wanted to read it. I loved reading 'Middlemarch' many years ago and recently listened to the Juliet Stevenson audible version (highly recommended). For many years the book had intimidated me when I was young - I was afraid I would not be able to get through its density. I was quire surprised one day to pick it up and fall right in. Yet it took me thirty years to return to it. Having heard so recently the wonderful Juliet Stevenson narration It seemed perfect timing to experience someone else's experience of the book.
I find this sort of literary reflection both interesting and rewarding because I really like to know how others experience books I have loved. I would like so much to discuss these sorts of topics with serious readers and I hope that others will read this book and take the time to reflect on their impressions. As I am listening to Mead's book I feel like I am enclosed in a comfortable armchair, encompassed in my reading the way I was as a child, even though I am in reality sitting on an uncomfortable New Jersey Transit banquette. It's like being able to talk to a good friend about the things you really care about.
One criticism I have of the performance is that I am fond of Kate Reading's fiction narration, but I find it less satisfying for a non-fiction book. She has a storytelling musicality that lilts at the end of sentences but that just doesn't seem the appropriate rhythm for non-fiction. That said she is an excellent reader who makes the text easy to understand, just not perfect for this particular book.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
This is a very interesting dissection of an important English writer's life and works, with a good tie in to the modern reader. This is not just a review of Middlemarch, rather it is a good look at George Eliot and her life, plus the influences on the writer's life. If you love English lit, you won't want to miss this.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book from Rebecca Mead and/or Kate Reading?
Redding is a capable narrator with an authoritative presence about her. I've enjoyed other books she's narrated.
Would you ever listen to anything by Rebecca Mead again?
I have my doubts, but perhaps. Mead seems like a good writer, so I might read some of her other stuff if it recommended itself independently. I certainly wound't seek out her other writings simply based on this book.
Any additional comments?
This book is not really the work it claims to be, that is part autobiography, part reflection on Middlemarch with an emphasis on how Middlemarch influenced the author's thinking or parallels her own life. The book is essentially an extended exposition on the life and writings of Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) by a writer who is infatuated by her. I found the work somewhat instructive about the life and times of Eliot, and it certainly gave me better insight into what a remarkable woman she was. However, the book is really just a work of predominantly effusive criticism about Middlemarch and sundry other works of Eliot's. Unlike other bibliomemoirs, though, the book lacks the sense of intimacy that it might be expected to have if it possessed an autibiographical aspect, which this book only ostensibly has. So little of Mead's life is revealed in the pages of the book that the possibility of connection with her own story arrives dead and opaque. The parallels and points of contact between Mead's life and the story and characters of Middlemarch are rare and are given only the most superficial treatment. Joyce Carol Oates wrote a (largely glowing) review of the book in the Jan 23, 2014 NY Times called "Deep Reader," which I recommend. It certainly gives a much better account of what to expect from the book, and it's written by someone who loved the book and is herself a great writer. Near the beginning of Oates' review she says "The most engaging bibliomemoirs establish the writer’s voice in counterpoint to the subject, with something more than adulation or explication at stake." To my mind, Mead has failed to disentangle herself from the subject she so adores. I imagine this book will best resonate with readers already enamored with Eliot who want to hear her praises sung some more.
14 of 16 people found this review helpful
Part biography of George Elliot, part literary critique of "Middlemarch", part autobiography of Rebecca Mead and how "Middlemarch" influenced her life. I listened to "Middlemarch" first (fabulous reading by Juliet Stevenson-accept no substitute!) and am glad I did it in that order. Enjoyed both immensely.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I read Middlemarch as an audible.com book. This modern-day corollary is a must to understanding it. Rebecca Mead's curiosity about George Eliot, her family relationships, the people in her circle of friends, and the events of her time, all make this an essential complement to that book. I now want to re-read Middlemarch with a new sense of understanding about its characters and their creator.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I listened to middlemarch, adored it, and wanted to learn and think more about the book. This served the purpose really well. The insight into Eliot and the book were exactly what I wanted. The author also explains her own personal relationship with the book. I valued that a lot. The narrator does a very good job. There should be more of these - when I finish a book like this I really want to have a chance to think more about it and absorb an overview of the scholarly critical views on the book.
The reading was good; easy to imagine Mead is reading it, herself.
Bear in mind that this is a memoir, lacking the objectivity one would find in a true critical work, this is still very good preparation for a critical reading of Middlemarch. Enhanced my reading of it, to be sure.
My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead is a necessity, post - George Eliot's delightful "Middlemarch". A rich accompaniment.
Any additional comments?
I thoroughly enjoyed My Life in Middlemarch, which I listened to as an audio book immediately after finishing the audio book Middlemarch. I was expecting a memoir, which it was to some extent. But to a greater extent, it was a biography of George Eliot. It told the story of Eliot’s life as it related her writing and to Middlemarch. It greatly enhanced my understanding of both Eliot and Middlemarch. I’d highly recommend My Life in Middlemarch as a companion to the reading of and/or listening to Middlemarch.
I also found a graduate paper titled: Louisa May Alcott and George Eliot on Class, Gender and Marriage written by Elizabeth Michelle Meyers in December 2010. I’m going to read it, because I think it will be an interesting read and may help me better understand the works of both authors.
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
Someone more familiar with My Life in Middlemarch and someone who studies 18th century British Literature.
Has My Life in Middlemarch turned you off from other books in this genre?
No, I keep an open mind.
What about Kate Reading’s performance did you like?
It's hard to read a book for hours. This was excellently narrated.
Any additional comments?
The story is very hard to follow. I hart to start it over 3 times and then gave up.
1 of 4 people found this review helpful