This is the review I wrote, the notes I jotted down, as soon as I had finished the book. I haven’t changed anything. It would probably have been better if I had, but this way it is authentic (and less work, which is the real reason for leaving it as it is):
I have finished The Grapes of Wrath. Although I know that Steinbeck writes wonderful books, full of dramatic truth and sometimes a kind of magic realism, finely drawn characters and always the feeling that he has written something worth telling and saying, I had never read either Grapes nor Of Mice and Men. This is mostly because I haven't come across them cheap and they are still in copyright so not on Gutenberg. But I found Grapes in a free download and have finally been able to read it.
It is anchored in reality, and apparently reflects how the situation was for the people who had travel in search of work for the first time in generations. Although he explains the reasons they have to go, and is critical both in the voice of the narrator and of the characters of the banks and the big investors who are changing the world and causing such hardship, and although he makes no attempt to understand the true motives of all those involved or to analyse the possible benefits that might derive from the changes- and which did, in the end- (quite rightly. There is no narrative need to do so) the book is not social denunciation or some such rubbish. It is a story, and it never forgets that he is crafting a story.
The hardship, the conditions forced on the workers, the harshness and hard hearts of the powerful, and the cynicism of some of those who take their opportunities at the expense of others are part of the story, not something added on to make a point. It may be a book about its time, but it is still worth reading now, and will be long into the future, because a tells a story about real people- who it first takes the trouble to create- and they are very human and very interesting.
There is more than one narrative voice, aside from the characters themselves and the ostensible narrator. There is one, probably at least two, meta-narrators who appear occasionally to comment on the greater context of the tale, in its historical and human implications.
Steinbeck doesn't wave his hands about in a 'you know what I mean' kind of way, expecting us to imagine all the things that he hasn't been able to create himself, and to gaze in wonder at a mishmash of clichés and transeunt orthodoxy, like many who call themselves writers. He creates his own world, fills it with recognisably human creations of his own, and has them do and feel interesting and coherent things. You live their lives along with them, you can feel what they feel in the sound and rhythm of their words, and it was worth doing.
Denys Johnson-Davies, RIP.
4 hours ago