A Room with a View was the Hungry Hundred Book Club book for May. The group leader, Rachel, started off the discussion at the well-attended meetup with an interesting question:
Is A Room with a View primarily a love story, a coming-of-age story, or social commentary?
Since the book has elements of all three, the answer to the question says as much about the reader’s perspective as it does about the book itself. How much people enjoyed the book depended very much on what they thought it was trying to do and what they thought it did well, thus the question served not only to kick off the discussion but also to guide and shape it.
At the end of the discussion, we rated the book. It garnered perhaps only one rating of five stars, but many of three or three-and-a-half or four, as well as a couple of very low ratings (0.5 and 2). The reason for the less-than-spectacular average rating seemed to be that Forster was undeniably good, yet didn’t measure up to other writers.
During the discussion, someone mentioned a Guardian article based on a lecture by Zadie Smith on the fiction of E.M. Forster. The article compares Forster’s work to Austen’s.
Forster ushered in a new era for the English comic novel, one that includes the necessary recognition that the great majority of us are not like an Austen protagonist, would rather not understand ourselves, because it is easier and less dangerous.
Zadie Smith, in pointing out this message in Forster’s work, is saying in part that what Forster was doing was different from what others were doing, and that he was good at it. I agree.
See below for my opinion on whether A Room with a View is a love story, coming-of-age story, or social commentary and what I got out of it. (If you’ve never read the book or watched the movie, note that this post gives away the ending.)