Of great writers

Of Mice and Men

By John Steinbeck

While John Steinbeck holds a very special place in literature and in this reader’s literary wanderings, I have to admit that this novel failed to move me. I think the problem is that it’s dated. Steinbeck pioneered a certain style – stories about working-class people, sparse language, realistic dialogue – but these devices are now commonplace. So going back to the original leaves one with the feeling of, ‘is that it?’

Of Mice and Men is an accomplished piece of work, no doubt about it. It’s a tight story told with tenderness and a crafty sense of looming tragedy. The dialogue is as crisp as if the speakers were in the same room as you. The descriptions are clear as a photograph. Steinbeck’s just brilliant at all this stuff.

It’s just that, because the book is so short and there’s little time to go on an emotional journey with George and Lennie, and because thousands of books have drawn on Steinbeck’s style since this novella, it inevitably leaves one feeling disappointed. I could, of course, write a glowing review. That would be true. But so is this feeling of anti-climax I’ve got.

Let him keep his Nobel Prize. And let him stay in his place in literary history.

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