Review: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Wordsworth edition paperback, 1911, 117p.

4 stars.

I picked up this Wharton in the wrong season – sweltering through a series of 40C days in Australia while the cast of characters in Ethan Frome were freezing through snow and a general feeling of melancholy.

Ethan Frome is the first book by Edith Wharton that I have read, and I fell in love with the setting and the style of this novel. It is a great book that can transport you so fully to another place that you start to shiver – while sitting outside sweating buckets.

I felt like we got to experience the misery of these characters in step with the narrator, and I was as excited to get to the bottom of the story as he was. Ethan Frome, the titular character, is so delightfully enigmatic that unraveling the layers seems difficult at times, but overall rewarding.

I would be remiss to review this classic without mentioning the way that Wharton excels at creating isolation, depression and ruin through her style and setting. The setting gives away quite early in the book that there would be no happy ending, and to be perfectly honest, I would have been annoyed and angry if the author had tacked on a happy ending.

Characters in Ethan Frome are permitted to love, to have deep passions – but these are always curbed by society or nature – and that is a wonderful thing to read, in a dark depressing way.

I felt like I could have enjoyed Ethan Frome more if it was fleshed out into a fleshier novel, the novella length generally doesn’t satisfy me when there is so much potential for a good story.

I will pick up more works by Wharton in the future, and most likely will venture into Ethan Frome at a later date for a deeper, more critical reading.

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