This book has everything! Love, Romance, Violence, Cursing (“damn”), smut (from a coal-driven train engine), Sibling rivalry, Opera, nudity (naked baby), marriage, hysteria, death, TOURISM! It is hilarious, it is tragic. In Forster’s first novel, he shoots endless insults at upperclass English society, and every single snark is a beautiful shining poison dart. Every discomfort and ridiculous trait stand out in bold relief during international travel.
This book is too often overlooked in E.M. Forster’s oeuvre. It is short but priceless. He pities no one. All his characters are flawed, petty and peevish. They are unable to contain themselves within a lush Italian countryside village. I laughed and groaned aloud. Oh, the tender, awkward embarrassment (and terror) of a young English person in love!
People often compare this work to the rest of Forster’s novels. Many believe it to be inferior. Personally, I am of a different opinion. In fact, I greatly preferred Where Angels Fear to Tread to Passage to India. Both works are set on foreign soil, both are exploring foreign cultures, and yet Where Angels Fear to Tread feels more astute, there is less awe and less reverence. It is obvious that Forster loves Italy, but it feels like a healthy love. He doesn’t fetishize the country. Forster may make some assumptions and generalizations about Italy and the people who live there, but these generalizations are easy to take with a grain of salt, it simply feels like he’s mimicking his main protagonist, Phillip, who is an arduous Italophile.
This is a small book but it left me feeling warmer and more whole than some of Forster’s later novels. I wouldn’t overlook this one, even if it’s less critically acclaimed than his other works