by Gráinne Regan
I’m a reader. Always have been, always will be. I have my preferences in terms of reading material, however I try not to pigeon hole myself. Broadly speaking, my bookshelf is made up of two types of books: the easy readers and the classics, with the occasional tome falling into both self appointed categories (I’m looking at you, The Kite Runner).
I look at the easy readers as the light and tasty snacks in between meals. They are generally modern books, written in a readily digestible manner which I gorge upon greedily but which ultimately leave few memories.
Then you have the classics, the hearty meals that leave a marked impression- three course dinner style. These are generally the books that make it onto the lifetime reads lists, the stories which have been read and shared by multiple generations. They are often overflowing with beautiful language, language I like to take my time over, to truly appreciate. These stories are filled with honest and thought provoking sentiments which remain long after the last page has been turned.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck definitely makes it onto my classics list. This bitesize novella was given to me by my Dad who is a huge Steinbeck fan, so I already knew the multi-generational box was ticked on this one.
It is one of Steinbeck’s most famous publications and having read a number of his novels prior to this, I had a good idea of what to expect— a simple, yet heart- rending story, the strength of which lies in the vivid portrayal of the main characters.
Of Mice and Men tells the tale of George and Lennie, two wandering workers who make their way through 1930’s California seeking temporary employment at farms throughout the state. The story opens with the two men midway through their journey to a farm in Soledad. Lennie is a guileless giant of a man, unhurried in his demeanour, a marked contrast to George, the deft and intelligent leader of the two. From the off, the depth of their friendship is clear, with George acting as Lennie’s infallible protector, offering him guidance with a sharpness of tongue that cannot disguise the high regard he has for his simple companion.
When they arrive at the Soledad farm, a number of new characters are introduced, each creating a distinct impression. From the highly strung boss’ son Curley to the charismatic and intuitive Slim, it is clear that George and Lennie’s stay on the farm will not be without incident. Lennie’s fondness for ‘soft things’ soon leads to him developing a fascination with Curley’s young wife as well as a tiny puppy which Slim gifts him, two innocent fascinations which ultimately result in dire complication. It’s made all the more bitter because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like soft things?
From a fairly sedate beginning, the tension and excitement gradually surge to a harrowing crescendo which left me reeling. I don’t want to ruin the story for those who haven’t read this little gem but let’s just say that the final scenes of this book are truly excellent, with George and Lennie’s friendship being put to the test, they definitely caused me to really evaluate the friendships I hold dear in my life.
Friendship is a common theme in Steinbeck’s work and it is a subject which he handles with aplomb. The interactions between George and Lennie are far from sentimental but are nonetheless heartwarming, the dreams, devastation, excitement and solidarity they share overlying the tense undercurrent of violence which is present throughout the book.
“With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”
Lennie broke in. “But not us! An’ why? Because… because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” He laughed delightedly. “Go on now, George!”
At the foundation of the friendships presented in this book are the dreams which each character possesses. Whether it be the dreams of fame and adoration which Curley’s wife holds dear or the simple fancy of Lennie owning a smallholding on which he can tend to rabbits, “an live off the fatta the lan”, these are ideas which demonstrate the commonality of the human condition, no matter how flawed the individual. This book presents the theme of dreams in a simple manner and yet really made me pause and ponder.
The beautiful, authentic language used throughout combined with stirring characters and themes, truly cement this book in my classics list. To continue with the food metaphor from above, Of Mice and Men is a warm home-cooked Sunday roast, lovingly prepared by a Nobel Prize winner. What more can a gal ask for?
Image via Shit I Heart.
Gráinne is a nomadic soul, currently doing her best to avoid ‘real life’. Born in Ireland and based in London, she spends all of her free time looking for adventure, whether it be in a good book or a new European city. Interested in travel, literature, music, science, nature, food and a host of other generic pursuits, she can usually be found over thinking things and documenting her travels on her blog/Instagram.