Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Being the ever-neglectful husband that I am, it's taken me many years to finally get around to reading my wife's favourite tale, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I've seen the BBC production countless times, as well as the recent movie, and various related TV shows about it, so I'm very familiar with all the goings on, as I'm sure everyone reading this is. P&P is kind of like the Star Wars of chick flicks. So it was interesting to actually get around to reading it. I was travelling, and decided to attempt my first ever bookless trip, and happened to have downloaded the Project Gutenberg ebook onto my iPad, so I read it while working in Saudi Arabia and holidaying in Jordan.

With regard to reading an eBook, as compared to reading a dead tree book, it was actually better than I expected. For all the digitalness of my life, I've always been very fond of the old paper format book. This was the first ever full eBook I've read. It actually was fine. There's a feeling of inevitability to the transition to ebooks - I know that in ten years I'll almost certainly be reading everything digitally, but I've been a bit uncomfortable with the transition. One of the issues is DRM - as with all the other media that have gone digital in recent years, the book publishers have tried to lock ebooks down and cripple them to ensure that everyone who reads one has to pay for the privilege. No more second hand books, no more borrowing books from friends. This is why I'm yet to buy an mp3 or movie online - I still buy CDs and DVDs when I'm buying music or movies. Project Gutenberg puts out-of-copyright books online for free, however, so I wasn't worried about DRM intruding on my life. Having said all that, reading the book on the iPad was fine, and I can see myself quite happily transitioning to all-digital reading, particularly if the licensing issues ever get resolved.

Pride and Prejudice itself was, well, as I expected. The thing that struck me the most was how constrained the characters were by the rules of their society - this struck me more in the book than it did in the various TV adaptations, which I suspect played down this aspect a little as it didn't translate that well for modern audiences. There are a number of times when you just want to yell at the characters to just bloody talk to each other. This aspect struck particularly strongly because I was travelling in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where there are much more rigid rules about the behaviour of men and women that we are used to in the West - the constraints on the behaviour of characters in the book were similar to the constraints on the behaviours of the men and women around me, and experiencing the book and the society at the same time made both make a little more sense. It shouldn't have felt like an unexpected and strange parallel, but it did.

Apart from that, it's quite a clever book, with amusing and occasionally subtle characterization, and the plot is certainly not spoiled by knowing the conclusion - if anything, the plot is enhanced by knowing the outcome, by the looming inevitability of a happy ending.