11 June 2012

Caleb Williams, by William Godwin

Interesting from a literary history/theoretical perspective, but otherwise pretty dull. Caleb Williams is the story of a young servant who becomes very curious about his master's past. He ends up learning the man's dark secret, and the rest of the novel is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Falkland, the master, is a virtuous guy, but he also doesn't want his secret to get out, and doesn't feel he can fully trust Caleb. So he can't kill him or just let him go, which means they are initially sort of chained together, making each other's lives miserable. But then Caleb attempts escape, upping the ante. An interesting premise, and the way that events play out isn't predictable - it's just kind of blah. There's a good bit of railing against the conditions of society, especially prisons and the justice system as such, which makes the novel feel both preachy and dated (though some - even most! - of its criticisms probably still apply). Perhaps the problem I had with it was the characters - the mechanics of the plot were quite interesting and well done, but the moral ambiguity of the characters actually made them kind of hard to track emotionally. Or maybe it's just that I read the book in fits and starts and didn't get into it properly. Who knows. 

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