The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne (August 2019)

I admit to having picked this particular book off the shelf more out of curiosity, having heard so much about it, than a desire to immerse myself in the story. Having said that, whilst I found the novel hard going at times I genuinely enjoyed reading it and felt a sense of accomplishment for having done so.

Where does this feeling of accomplishment stem from? The book is hardly long – a mere 24 chapters – no challenge for someone who can read for hours. Yet the book felt like a, sometimes, arduous journey. Primarily because of the language. Published in 1850 the prose are not as easy to follow or understand as the books most of us are accustomed to read. It was occasionally frustrating to sift through the text to discern the authors intention and meaning. I found it required more mental energy to follow the story line than other books with quiet being a necessity to fully comprehend what I was reading.

Despite this I enjoyed the story immensely and appreciated the authenticity of the original language. Hawthorne beautifully defines both the New England landscape and the characters. The sheer attention to detail is immense and worth sticking with. Whilst I felt the story line could have been pacier it would have detracted from the almost lyrical nature of the prose in describing the environment which enriches the story.  Hawthorne’s commitment to fleshing out his characters fully brings them into sharp relief. You walk alongside them on their journey towards hopeful vindication at the narratives end. The overarching question of sin and repentance are interwoven throughout. Not just a simple romance, the story sparks questions about morality and the true nature of evil. What do these things look like? Who is worse the sinner or the one seeking revenge, the congregation who looks on in disdain or perhaps the sinner who hides their sin?

So, my final recommendation for this book?  I found the story of Hester Prynne to be absorbing. I was drawn into the narrative and couldn’t have stopped reading without knowing her fate. Whilst I was able to guess the conclusion of the book it was beautifully wrought and worth following to the conclusion.

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