I'm not sure how I'm going to review The Reef without revealing spoilers, so read ahead at your own peril.
Firstly, I'm not even sure if I enjoyed The Reef!
I read The Age of Innocence, House of Mirth, Custom of the County and Ethan Frome in my twenties. I remember loving them, especially TAOI. I loved the angst, the tortured social niceties, the scruples, the rumours, the temptations & foibles of an age long gone.
Somehow The Reef seemed to just miss all these marks.
I found it difficult to get into. I struggled to truly empathise or feel for any of the main characters. The main love affair felt contrived; the young lovers were obviously all wrong and the shocking affair that stained all the characters by the end simply felt ridiculous!
I also didn't get that sense of time & place in The Reef, like I did with her other novels that were based in New York & the US. The French countryside around Givré somehow felt Americanised, although maybe that was a deliberate comment on the American influence of Anna on her environment?
So why did I read it all the way through?
Hope - that I would find a connection or a way in.
Memory - of how much I had loved Wharton's previous works.
Faith - in the pulling power of Paris.
Trust - the main theme of the book and also my trust in Wharton.
Writing - it's impossible to describe how wonderfully Wharton writes. It's just that this time, I loved the writing, but felt that it missed heart and soul. Maybe I was too busy admiring the writing to properly engage with the story?
But the ending? What was with that ending?
I knew that Wharton liked to leave her endings open & ambiguous from old. I also knew that happy endings were not her forte.
But Jimmy Brance again at the end? The young man who was tied up with Darrow, Sophy and Lady Ulrica at Mrs Murrett's place before the novel begins.
How did he become attached to Sophy's sister at the end?
What is Wharton trying to say by reminding us of the early chapters where Darrow explains his experiences with different types of ladies?
I'm all confusion and a mess of unresolved story lines.
I'd love to know what you, dear reader, thinks of all this.
What did you make of The Reef?
Can you clear up my muddle?