E.M. Forster, Howards End
Just finished reading E.M. Forster's Howards End, and I can reservedly say that it's a great book. The story itself is marvelous - a sharp study about social classes in early-20th Century England, how members of those classes interact and what responsibility, if any, they have toward each other. Forster's characters are wonderful, especially the caught-between-classes Margaret Schlegel and her bourgeois husband Henry, a callously insensitive man whose interest in others is limited to how they reflect on him and affect his standing in society. The story's settings are also particularly strong; I can easily envision Howards End, Oniton Grange and Wickham Square, and Forster's lush and vivid descriptions really point to his fascination and love for his country.
The reason I qualify my overall assessment with that term "reservedly" is Forster's penchant for digressive asides, in which he regularly halts the narrative flow to pontificate on abstractions, elaborating on the narrative in vague and high-flown language. He chooses to drive home thematic points in this manner rather than just letting the story deliver the theme - which is somewhat puzzling, considering that the story already expresses his themes very effectively, thus making all those asides unnecessary. My guess is that eliminating these passages could have cut as many as 50 or 75 pages from the book, significantly tigthtening the narrative to its essentials and creating a much greater book. As it is, Howards End is already a great book, but it could have been even better.