My reread of East of Eden was down to the fact that my book club selected it to read. It’s been more than ten years since I read it, and I’d forgotten all the details. I had vague memories of enjoying it and that it was a family saga with an evil woman.
Which it is.
But on my reread its flaws were more visible to me. The female characters in particular seemed very under-developed. Part of that is probably down to society at the time, women in the background and men to the fore, but at the same time that is never really the case is it?
And on this reading the character of Cathy really stood out. And I think that with a different author she could have been a fantastic character instead of almost a cariacature of evilness. At carious times in the story she tells people what she wants and what she doesn’t want, and they ignore her and try to make her act according to their wishes. Adam Trask in particular. Okay, so the way she then handles them is ever so slightly inapropriate :) but I couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for her.
But at the heart of the book is the story of Cain and Abel, of fathers and sons and the frought relationships there can be between them. Adam’s father, Cyrus, lets face it, was a bit of a prick, but Steinbeck describes him in such a way that you almost forget that fact. Not that I ever liked him, but at times he did seem to be doing his best, its just what he thought best is what he wanted to force on his sons.
And of course then much of that is replicated in his relationship with his sons, Caleb and Aron. Albeit shaded by the secret of who their mother is and what she did.
I enjoyed the reread, but I defintely had many more issues with the book than I did on my first, my review from 2003 is below :
Read Steinbeck’s East of Eden in July, along with Oprah. Have joined Diamond’s Oprah’s Classics book group. An excuse to get me reading books I might otherwise put off for a while.
It is a good book, but not what I expected it to be.
The book itself is much more aware of itself as a book than I had thought it would be, a lot more modern. For some reason I had expected it to be quite traditional in style.
The shifts in narrator, I thought, were handled quite well, and the different voices from the omniscient narrator to John Steinbeck himself to the characters in the novel were handled very well.
The basic plot is a retelling of the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, and why God did accepted one gift over the other. This idea of gifts and presents features heavily in the novel, as do brothers.
Think the book raises a lot of interesting questions; Which of the twins represents Cain, for example. I think the answer to this depends on your reading of the characters, and if you think that people, in general are good or evil.
But I found the idea of timshel the most interesting notion in the book. It revolves around a translation of the word in the bible as “you may” and therefore implies choice. I’ll let you read the book to get a full appreciation.