Spoilers for March by Geraldine Brooks
I am disappointed by the author’s decision to have March and Marmee have sex without the benefit of marriage. Sure, it is traditional but by the time they meet, he has become a minister and there is nothing in his character to indicate he would be so consumed by lust as to act on his desires without any self-discipline. This event happens in chapter five and I simply cannot see a legitimate context within either of the characters that truly justifies Brooks taking such liberties with a more traditional approach to their courtship.
I suppose one could argue that the relationship March has with Grace Clement foreshadows this later encounter. I disagree. At the time of his meeting Grace, he is a younger man and not yet devoted to a spiritual career. For him to feel attracted to a woman who is intelligent and even regal is not surprising given his own intellectual passions. That her whipping seems to be the impetus for his later commitment to becoming a minister is a predictable catalyst.
All the more predictable are the other coincidences that surround the character of Grace. Of course, she’s the daughter of a the master of the house. Really, was anyone surprised by this? And of course she shows up later in the novel in an overly convenient manner. This is one of the reasons that the novel seems a bit old fashioned to me. The jealousy that Marmee feels when she first encounters this woman, conveniently nursing March through a delirious fever, is stereotypical romance novel fodder. Tediously predictable.
Unfortunately, this is also the weakest part of the novel for another reason. Throughout the first part, the novel is told from the point-of-view of March himself but suddenly in part two Marmee is the narrator. For a couple of chapters, anyway, before Brooks returns the narrative to March himself. I find this a disingenuous choice on the author’s part for it obviously breaks the contract already created with the writer in the first part. I can imagine how the author wrote herself into a literary corner. "What to do? March is very sick and even delirious. He can’t actually continue narrating the story when he’s slipping in and out of consciousness. Oh, I know! I can let Marmee tell the story. Whew!"
In the hands of a better (or at least more confident) writer, one skilled in using stream-of-consciousness, this choice would have been unnecessary (and it would have gotten rid of the silly relationship issue between Marmee and Grace). The few chapters in which Marmee is given voice are the weakest part of the novel for yet another reason. Her voice sounds a lot like that of her husband. While I appreciate how a similar education might result in a certain similarity in elocution, I would nevertheless expect one narrative voice to have its own style. The only thing that truly differs between one voice and the other are the details of the experience. How the story is told, whether by March or Marmee, is without any distinctive tonal difference.
So this is why I wasn’t blown away by this novel. I don’t know if the author had changed all of the above if I would have enjoyed it enough to be blown away but I would have at least enjoyed reading it more than I obviously did.