Friday, April 18, 2008

Book Review: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome is a novelette about the tragic events that shaped the life of a farmer and miller from Massachusetts – a man trapped in a loveless marriage with a wife who is domineering, scheming and a hypochondriac but in love with his wife’s cousin, Mattie Silver. At first this may seem a less than exciting pretext for a story, but the way in which the author gradually and sparingly fleshes out the characters keeps the reader interested. Additionally the contrast between Ethan’s dour and ugly wife and the tenderness of Mattie makes the reader form a real compassion for poor Ethan and hope for a happy ending.

Whilst the mood of this story is largely one of unrequited love, there is a point at which it seems that there may be a favourable ending, but when Ethan’s wife returns from an overnight visit to a highly-rated doctor she transforms from an inconvenience to a truly despicable villain. Towards the end, the pace of this short story speeds up and one becomes wrapped up in this pace and eager to find out what is to become of Ethan and Mattie – but this becomes one of the most truly tragic of novels.

Ethan Frome is a well-written story which uses a nice blend of narrative and colloquial speech with interesting characters and a suitable pace. Many authors would have been tempted to stretch this novelette into a longer book, but that would have spoiled a tale which is well-suited to the shorter format and provides a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Unfortunately, there is not much joy in Ethan Frome, which is a shame as Ethan and Mattie are such likeable characters, but the manner of the ending is what shapes the tale and the telling of this story is very well contrived.


Ethan Frome is a very good short read and whilst it is not a joyous tale it is surprisingly gripping. Readers who have enjoyed novels such as Adam Bede and Silas Marner should take a look at this similar but much more accessible book.

Score: 9/10

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