I picked Of Mice and Men to be my eleventh classic of the year because it seems to be one that very few people (who I’ve spoken to!) do not feel enthusiastic about, even if they had to study it to death in school. I bought it in the summer, on a trip to Daunt Books, Marylebone (where I spent a little while choosing between two covers, the one on the left and this one!). It’s another classic I knew next to nothing about, but I raced through it in three hours (like you all told me I would). I was surprised to find that the plot was a lot less complex on the surface than I had anticipated yet underneath a lot is packed into this 121-page novella, taking place over just four days.
It’s the 1930s. George Milton and Lennie Small are good friends, or cousins, depending on who they’re talking to. They had to suddenly leave town so now they’re looking for work in California’s valleys and fields, hoping to achieve the American Dream. But as we all know, this can often be impossible. Lennie is an unwilling troublemaker and so when both men start their new jobs, George is unsure whether he is going to be able to help and protect Lennie this time. John Steinbeck’s 1930s shows us everything but the American Dream and that help is only provided to those that can afford it, not that that does any good if you’re Curly…
Of Mice and Men is a fulfilling and accomplished novel. It’s a story that takes no time at all to draw you in – my Grandmother, who only reads two books a year, stole it from my desk and is currently enjoying it, talking to me about Lennie and his mouse – but you’ll soon be done with it, and it’ll leave you with a lot to ponder over. Poverty, loneliness, dreams, race, sexuality, friendship… It’s a story that revolves around its characters and the situations they’re finding it impossible to get out of. And even though it’s not the point of the book, it also made me think about ‘likeable characters’. We can see that it’s not so easy to separate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, but it’s particularly fashionable in the blogosphere (since John Green first said it, it seems) to say that characters do not have to be likeable. Although I wholly agree, I also like to like people and so I’ve not decided whether I liked Lennie, as most people seem to and as I was expecting to. Even though we’re not given a lot of time to make up our minds about the two men, I thoroughly enjoyed their close friendship, and it was difficult to read about the impossible choices and actions both had to face. Of Mice and Men is another book I’d recommend to people who feel intimidated and daunted by classics.
Published: 2007, originally 1937
Publisher: Penguin Books