Some things should not be revisited because the second time around just doesn't live up to the memories of the first, and you end up coming away feeling somewhat disappointed and disillusioned. For me, this reread of an old favourite was one of those things.
I first read this book back in the late seventies when I was in my late teens, and the heady mix of history, drama, romance and tragedy warmed my girlish heart. I just couldn't get enough of it and followed my reading of the novel with watching the movie and then immersed my self in the cult of the movie by rewatching it numerous times and reading everything I could about the making of it. For me Gone With the Wind
was iconic and very much associated with my coming of age, so when I added the novel to GR a couple of years ago I unquestioningly rated it 5 fond stars.
Fast forwarding thirty years or more and many life experiences later, after seeing the movie on TV one Sunday afternoon and thinking that it had held up reasonably well over time, I started wondering what I would think of the book now and was curious if it had held up as well. Hence the reread.
It started off well enough but after several chapters there was a nagging thought tugging at the back of my brain saying "This book won a Pulitzer? Really?" The writing style isn't bad but it's certainly nothing special either IMO. I just can't see enough literary merit to warrant a Pulitzer. Not that this is a problem as such, as I enjoy reading a lot of genre fiction, it was more something my brain puzzled over as I read.
The other thing I found as I read was that I just wasn't that interested in the American Civil War, certainly not enough to sustain me through 1000+ pages. This problem almost certainly lays with me and not the book though because as a teen I gobbled up any history I could find but as I've got older I have specialized more and more both in any coursework I've done as well as in my private reading. I hardly read outside of English and European history anymore but I hadn't realized how strong this preference had become until this reread.
My real problem with the book however was its inherent racism which I found myself unable to ignore. Yes, it was historically appropriate for characters of that time and place to have those attitudes and I will even acknowledge that it was probably historically appropriate for Mitchell as a southerner writing in the 1930s to hold the views she did. But I did find it harder to read about than I expected to and thought Mitchell came across as nothing more than an apologist for both slavery and the KKK at times. My older, left leaning self had a much harder time stomaching the politics than my politically naive teen self did which left my older self a little ashamed of my earlier ignorance.
However, the real problem with the inherent racism (which goes far beyond the use of the 'n' word) was that it stopped me engaging with the characters. Granted the Civil War itself and the following Reconstruction were terrible times, and the southerners did suffer dreadfully, but I just couldn't feel much sympathy for them as I couldn't disconnect from my mind that the way of life which had been destroyed and that many grieved for was based on human ownership and bondage. They all came across as whingers and whiners to me and I really wanted to smack them and tell them to get real as they had been lucky to have led the privileged life they had for so long. Many people comment on Scarlett's stupidity but I honestly found some of the more "sensible" characters much more frustrating than her as I felt (probably unreasonably) that they should've known better.
This review has been really difficult for me to write as I feel like I'm betraying an old friend. I've been particularly torn over how I would rate it. I honestly wanted to give it more stars than I did but when I looked at how I now felt about it, I found that I couldn't rate it any higher so have had to downgrade my original five star rating. It was an interesting experience to reread this but in some ways I also wish I hadn't.
The best part about this reread was the company I kept as it was an enjoyable albeit train wreck of a buddy read with Anna (our GWTW virgin who gallantly carried on when times got tough), Kim (who, bless her her cotton socks, put up with all my stops and starts) and Jeannette (who bailed half way through) :-).