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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nina Baym, Thomas E. Connolly
“The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”

“But . . . the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too.”
Any classic novel worth its salt should contain at least several quotable passages. Not surprisingly The Scarlet Letter offers up a wealth of them. This is the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who becomes a pariah due for committing adultery and is made to wear a big red “A” badge on her bosom as a mark of shame (if she was a Kryptonian she would have worn a big red S and flew away from all this malarkey). There is more to the story of course but in essence this one sentence synopsis seems to suffice.

The novel starts off with a rambling interminable 40 pages introduction that does not seem to go anywhere until the “A” badge is discovered by the narrator. On my Audible edition this intro is conveniently skipped and the reader is plunged straight into Chapter 1, as a completist I downloaded and read some of the intro in a Kindle e-book edition (auto-synced with the audio!) and to this day I still managed to read only half of it, perhaps I will resume some day. The book is indeed beautifully written but by no means a breezy read. The prose style is so flowery that at times I felt the meaning behind the words is buried under masses of flora with enormous petals. The deep purple prose led me to almost expect a chapter called “Smoke on the Water” at some point.

The aspect of The Scarlet Letter that I like best is how Hester was able to invert the stigma of the “A” badge on its head by doing so much good work in the community that shuns her that she gradually becomes an admired figure. The “A” badge gradually becomes a sort of logo for her kindness rather than a mark of shame. That said I wish I knew the central characters a bit better because they are all interesting people but the novel is light in dialogue and is far outweighed by an often rambling narration. Look out for Hester’s daughter Pearl though, that is one spooky kid. I can imagine her being portrayed by Haley Joel Osment from the Sixth Sense movie (as a transvestite kid may be).

The themes of hypocrisy and double standard especially in relation to what others consider to be sinful reverberate quite strongly with me in spite of my (male) gender. Such things still go on today, generally less blatantly but somehow even more insidiously. The eventual redemption of the main characters is also pleasingly poignant.

My audiobook edition is read by Charlton Griffin who does the expected Audible commercial grade job of narration, however for some reason he chose to read the Hester Prynne dialogue in a high pitched voice, almost Monty Python style. This has the effect of making poor Hester sound like a demented transvestite at times. His rendition of the little girl Pearl is oddly cute though. If you would rather read this book in audio format don’t let me put you off though because it is on the whole very well read; and more importantly quite cheap at $2.99 if you buy it simultaneously with the Kindle edition (which is actually free).

For me the stars rating is a rough estimate of how much I enjoy the book, not to be misconstrued as an indication of how much I think the book is worth. In term of literary value it is surely a 5 stars book, but on a personal enjoyment level I can only gauge about 3.5 stars from it.

Probably not a book I will be rereading any time soon due to excessive verbiage but I consider the time I spent reading it well spent.