Overall I enjoyed this book. I'd heard of it but did not know the details of the story before listening to it (audio book). The prologue that gave what I assume is a fictional account of how the author heard about this story was very tedious to get through, but the story itself was much better. The author did a good job of creating interesting characters and kept the story moving along very well. The old-fashioned language was pretty clunky to modern ears, but the story itself was very rewarding. It's easy to see why this had endured for so long, as each generation has to learn anew that those who are judged as unrighteous by society are sometimes more worthy than the ones doing the judging.
I have this phobia of my teen-aged daughter being better-read than me. She's been studying The Handmaid's Tale in conjunction with The Scarlet Letter, and while I couldn't bring myself to drag myself through the former, there was an audio book available of the latter, so I listened to it at drafty bus stops.
I was fortunate in the reader, one Flo Gibson, who (Wikipedia informs me) is a theatre actress and prolific performer of audio books. She recorded this one in the eighties and has a lively, almost ironic, style.
I've heard many complaints about this book. One difficulty is that it is very much a nineteenth century book with all the attendant melodrama and romanticism, about seventeenth century New England. Future readers will probably feel a similar irritation when reading twenty-first century novels about the nineteenth century. I did find myself rolling my eyes quite a bit (probably to the bemusement of my fellow bus passengers), but quite a few aspects of this novel will stay with me.
Hawthorne has a gift for painting word pictures. A cemetery is described as a "hillock of the dead", for example, and his portrait of the young daughter Pearl, staring at her mother and father while reflected in a forest pool, is arresting. His description of Pearl in her younger days, rejected by the village children because she is the daughter of an adulteress and her reaction to their cruelty hit rather closer to home than I'd like. My younger daughter has special needs and I found some painful parallels in her isolation and that of Pearl and her mother Hester Prynne.
All in all, though, I was surprised to find that I preferred the long-winded and self-deprecatory prologue "The Custom-House" particularly as delivered by Flo Wilson in her dry, almost sly style.
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