Every summer, I try to tackle one big book. This summer, for no particular reason I can recall, I chose Vanity Fair. I remember very little of the movie version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuRRjNRv-rM). And this book, a story Thackery (or at least his storyteller) refers to as a “comic history” is indeed just that. It is a carnival of greed and superficiality, and it is, as Thackery’s subtitle previews, “a novel without a hero.”
Becky Sharp is beautiful and manipulative. She has ambitions, achieves them, grows bored, and falls back down the ladder of society. Her schoolmate, Amelia Sedley, is naive – devoted to a husband who has little concern for her. Both become mothers, and their treatment of their children and the behavior of their children suggests that the ferris wheel of society will never end. There are some glimmers of home. They rest mainly on the shoulders of Dobbin, Amelia’s long-time friend and admirer.
Otherwise, life is, to borrow a phrase, “nasty, brutish and short.” People seek money and position, but such goals are, for Thackery, hollow. We are wasting our lives.
Thackery’s writing suits the material well. It’s recursive, funny, and satirical. The insights that are provided by the narrator come in the form of a kind of meta-narrative – pedantic at times, but always relevant. The tone may annoy you, but you can’t deny the accuracy of the insights.
I have been asked periodically if I have a reading plan – a path I follow. Sometimes, I try to move between American fiction and fiction from elsewhere. Sometimes, I try to move from heavy to light. But I never seek to move from long to long. I have recently joined a book club, though, and the first assignment, Middlemarch, which clocks in at 794 pages, just about 30 shy of Vanity Fair. In other words, it may be some time before I write another review.