Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘The Forsyte Saga’

The White Monkey by John Galsworthy


I started reading The White Monkey by John Galsworthy with the plan of giving up The Forsyte Saga if I didn’t like this fourth book in the series, but it is my favourite book so far! Looks like I will continue reading…

The White Monkey is the story of Fleur Forsyte and Michael Mont, who married after Fleur gave up her sweetheart, Jon, after learning about their parent’s history (see the previous three books for their parent’s story). Michael is in love with Fleur, but she isn’t in love with him – that sad, old story. Michael’s best friend Wilfred is also in love with Fleur. She keeps him dangling alongside Michael, while she decides who, if either man, she loves…

The story is set during the 1920s and Fleur and Michael are rich and privileged, able to enjoy life in London society while others around them starve.

Michael, who will eventually become a baronet, is a good man who knows and understands Fleur very well. John Galsworthy did very well not to have Fleur come across as a spoiled brat, one whom the reader would lose patience with. Instead I liked her and sympathised with her, hoping all the time she would see sense and fall in love with Michael.

Soames Forsyte, Fleur’s father, appears again in this story as a main character. He is embroiled in a business scandal when he discovers inconsistencies in the accounts of the P.P.R.S., of which he is on the Board of Directors. To his credit, he brings the inconsistencies to the attention of other board members, most of whom would rather not know or let their shareholders know about. Soames still regularly buys art and purchases a painting called The White Monkey, which he gives to Fleur. The significance of the painting is in the composition, a monkey with haunting eyes eating fruit with the discarded rinds thrown about it.

Art appears regularly throughout The White Monkey. Michael is a publisher and Wilfred a poet. One of the characters is a painter and another his model. Some characters visit art galleries to carry out liaisons, and all of the characters talk about books and art.

I loved Michael and Fleur’s slang, which Soames despised, his exact words in response to something Michael said were; ‘Good Gad! he thought; ‘what jargon!…’

There are less Forsytes in this book than in the first three, apart from Fleur and Soames, but there were a few minor characters who I enjoyed very much. I don’t think these minor characters will appear again in future novels but I would like to know what happened to them, especially the Bickets, a poor couple who were dreaming of a better life in Central Australia.

The Silver Spoon is next in the series. I plan to read it on the beach this summer.


The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy


I didn’t think I would ever actually get around to reading The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. My edition has The Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let in a single volume of 724 pages and I had been saving the book up in case I ever broke my leg and couldn’t get to the library. The book has been hiding in the stash of books inside my bedside table for about 25 years,* and only came out when I was watching the television news a few weeks ago (sigh) and thinking about the things I would regret not having done if the world came to a sudden end.

Then, once I actually started reading The Forsyte Saga, I didn’t think I would ever get through the book. I seemed to be reading it day and night; on the train, in the lunchroom at work, in bed, while I was stirring things on the stove and not making so much as a dent in the pages. But the story was enthralling, and I kept reading and reading, and eventually my bookmark was sitting around the middle of the book. Mysteriously, I flew through the last half, in the same way that the fuel indicator gauge in my car sits on ‘full’ for 500 kilometres, then all of a sudden drops to halfway and then, less than thirty kilometres later, the ’empty’ light is flashing and I’m no way near a service station…

At this rate, my review of The Forsyte Saga is going to be about as long as the book, but that isn’t entirely incongruous as the story goes into a lot of detail about the Forsyte family of London, their lives and loves and their values.

The Man of Property starts off with an ‘At Home’ at Old Jolyon Forsyte’s house in London one summer afternoon in 1886, with a gathering of the Forsyte clan to celebrate the engagement of one of Jolyon’s grand-daughters to an architect called Bosinney. The Foryste family are upper-middle class and financially successful. As individuals, they are characteristically self-important.

Soames Forsyte is the main character in The Man of Property. He is extraordinarily interested in real estate (this is true of most of the Forsytes) and as such, includes his beautiful wife Irene amongst his property. Soames is desperate for Irene to love him and cannot understand why she is repelled by him. When Irene agreed to marry Soames, following a relentless campaign which took him years, he agreed to set her free if she ever asked, but Soames dismissed her request for freedom when it came.

Soames engages Bosinney to build a mansion in the country where he intends for Irene to live in isolation, hoping this will force her to love him. During the building of the mansion, Irene and Bosinney fall in love. When Bosinney dies, Irene leaves Soames, leaving them in limbo as Soames continues to love Irene and does not want to expose his private life to the scrutiny of the media should they divorce.

While I was sympathetic to Irene, there weren’t many pages I turned without wondering why on earth she had married Soames and brought all of this trouble on all of them. This question was eventually answered to my satisfaction, and the answer was certainly in keeping with the Victoria and Edwardian times of when the story was written.

In Chancery has Soames and Irene having been separated for 12 years. Soames still wants Irene, but he also recognises that he now wants a son too, and he has been spending time with a beautiful French woman 20 years his junior, with the intention of marrying her if Irene won’t have him.

Young Jolyon, Soames’ cousin, has been acting as Irene’s financial trustee and becomes Irene’s protector when Soames tries to force Irene to live as his wife again. Irene and Young Jolyon fall in love and when Soames divorces Irene, Irene and Young Jolyon marry and have a son, Jon. Soames marries the young French woman and they have a daughter, Fleur.

The last part is To Let, by which time Fleur and Jon are young adults, and unaware of their parent’s history, they meet for the first time and fall in love. Obviously Irene and Soames are unhappy about their children’s relationship.

There are a cast of thousands in the Forsyte family, and each of them have their own stories, trials and tribulations, but it is Irene, Young Jolyon and Soames who the reader spends the most time with and has the most sympathy for.

The family’s interest in real estate, particularly in Man of Property, is similar to the mindset of middle class Australians now. We talk endlessly about the price of real estate, we are mad about renovating, and we worry about new home buyers’ inability to save up for a house deposit in a rising market (the suggestion that young Australians give up their weekend smashed avocado brunches at fashionable cafes or their regular overseas holidays has been howled down as being unrealistic, fuddy-duddy advice) and we watch television shows promoting home ownership and renovations.

I nearly fell over when I realised there are another 463 (or some other equally ridiculous amount) of sequels to The Forsyte Saga, but once I got over the shock I found a copy of the next book to hide in the bedside table stash in case I ever get an infectious disease which prevents me from getting to the library.**

I believe there is also a movie, or an old television series based on The Forsyte Saga, but I don’t have time to watch it at the moment. Eventually, maybe, but at the moment I’m addicted to watching Beachfront Bargain Hunt and The Block.

*I have to hide my book purchases, because He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers thinks I have too many books already, and he shakes his head in a disappointed way when I come home with more. At least with The Forsyte Saga, I was able to say with perfect truthfulness, “Oh this old thing! I’ve had this for years!”

**Next to my super-secret stash of chocolate. You are all under strict instruction never to tell He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers about this hiding place.

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