This last year started with fireworks, a vague sense of desperation and a strong resolution to read better (note how I talk about the year as though it has already ended). The fireworks fizzled out, leaving nothing but a dull ringing in our ears in its wake, desperation quietly sneaked out the back door the moment we decided to come back to Singapore, and I slowly and steadily made my way through book after book. This was to be the year I amended mistakes of the past and read all the classics I had missed out on. This turned out to be the year I bought an embarrassingly large number of books and made through thirty-something books out of the fifty I had assigned myself. Much as I hate to admit it, among those thirty-something books were some classics, some good reads, and the inevitable fluff that I turn to like a kid craving candy.
But with the year coming to an end, I sure am glad that the last book (or so it looks like, given how I have a New Year Eve party to plan and what not in the remaining days) that I read was Gone With The Wind. I know, right? How have I lived for this long not having read this book? Because it was one of those start-stop books. You know, the ones you start and leave and then leave for so long that you have to go back to the beginning when you take it up again and never make any progress because you’re rereading the same bits over and over again? Anyway. This January, I ended up befriending a “fan” of my blog (her word, not mine) and when we started talking books I basically begged her to read Anne of Green Gables and she said she would if only I took up Gone With The Wind. I said yes, started reading the first page, got distracted and gave up.
Cut to last month when I heard two colleagues talk about the book. They were in raptures, going on and on about how no other book could even come close to Gone With The Wind, and I almost refuted saying it was a matter of opinion because I still swore by Pride and Prejudice as the best book ever. But then I suddenly remembered my fan-friend telling me about the book, and on an impulse, downloaded the ebook and started reading it on my phone there and then. My colleague looked devastated. “A book like this deserves more respect,” she said, “Please go home and read it in leisure and give it the due attention it demands.” So I came home and started reading it on my Kindle (oh yes, I succumbed and had my husband gift me one). I read it on my flight to Hanoi, and on the flight back. I read scattered pages in minutes I had sneaked out from my busy hours. I lost sleep so I could read some more, and then lost more sleep thinking about it. I got furious and fanatic in turns, and gladly succumbed to that pleasant feeling of being sucked into a book. And yet, when I finished reading it today, all I could feel was confusion and a weird sense of unsettlement. I am hungover alright, but I find myself seething a bit.
First things first, I am almost ashamed at my ignorance. I started reading the book without knowing a single thing about it. Had I known it had a war in it and deaths, I would definitely have stayed away. Reading about wars gives me nightmares, literally, and I get so affected I spend my next few days in a morose funk. I love how vivid the images were of the war that affected so many, and I hated it for its vividness. There were times when I felt like shaking Scarlett O’ Hara by her shoulders, and times when I wanted to go give her a hug because she is so headstrong. Rhett Butler is a brute no doubt, but at least he redeems himself. I could have killed him for abandoning Scarlett with Melanie and the newborn baby when they were trying to get to Tara but I love him for the unabashedly honest man he is. I would have still made my peace with the book had it not been for its bitter ending.
Bonnie dead, Melanie dead, Rhett all out of love and Scarlett finally realising that she was in love with him instead of that spineless Ashley. “You fools!” I felt like saying, “Why couldn’t you just tell each other what you felt when you felt it?” The ending left me huffing and puffing, because it was as dissatisfying an ending as ever, and the worst part of it was how intensely I felt about it. I tried hard to make my peace with Scarlett but I couldn’t. Melanie was the only character I truly loved but she’s almost too good to be true. Rhett Butler is the “bad boy” women love to hate and hate to love but fall over anyway. The die-hard romantic that I am, I guess I would have loved my sugar-coated happy ending, where Scarlett and Rhett passionately admit to their love for each other and Melanie and Ashley get to spend the rest of their lives together. For once I wanted my ending to be neatly wrapped with a satin ribbon and a flourishing bow and all I got was… well, irreparable cracks on my fragile China.
When my friend told me she’d read it multiple times the only thing I asked her was why she returned to a book without a happy ending. Everyone knows the only reason we keep rereading Harry Potters is because we know Voldemort finally dies. If the book had been only about all those deaths (Lily, James, Sirius, Dumbledore, oh dear Fred, and even Hedwig…) and left Harry alone with only vague words of consolation and no straightforward triumph do you think we’d keep reading them again and again? (Some people might, just not me I guess) So yeah, now that I have put that tick along yet another classic I should have read a long time ago but finally got around to reading just now, I am done with my good read of the year. Send me rainbows and endings that include riding into the sunset together and some chocolate, stat.