For someone who loves Southern American literature, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to get round to Twain. I had never read any of his books I picked up Puddn’head Wilson earlier this year - and I enjoyed it so much, I was spurred on to catch up with some of his other books. So here is my quick review of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…
In a nutshell
After the exploits in Tom Sawyer (don't ask me what they were, cos I haven't read it) Huckleberry Finn has a lot of money to his name. His drunken lout of a father then reappears, after the dough. Huck eventually gets fed up of his dear old dad, fakes his own death, and disappears. He ends up travelling down the Mississippi with runnaway slave Jim. Their plan is to make it to the states where slavery has been abolished, so that Jim can become a free man. Along the way they get into various bits of bother, meet some very suspect characters, and generally do a pretty good job of living on their wits.
Huck is only 13 in the book - seriously, if my almost 13 year old had to live on his wits sailing down the Mississippi on a raft, I'm pretty sure that it would make for a far shorter book. Although it might be quite entertaining.
Reasons to give it a go
1.The dialogue is really amazing. Twain manages to capture the subtleties of various different dialects and the voices of the characters are spot on – it really takes you back to the time and place in which it is set. In fact, there is a disclaimer at the start of the book in which Twain says he uses seven dialect variations – all deliberately different. TOP TIP: if you are struggling to read the dialogue, I totally recommend the audiobook. I interspersed my reading with Elijah Wood's narration and he was AMAZING.
2. It does have an entertaining plot. Huckleberry Finn literally drifts down the river from one adventure to the next and meets all sorts of people along the way. Most of the time, these adventures last just long enough to hold your interest, before he’s on to the next one.
3. Huck himself is a great character. He’s an uneducated, ignorant, wild child, who doesn’t want to conform to ‘civilised’ life and prefers to live outdoors where manners and schooling aren’t required. But you root for him throughout the whole book, because he’s also incredibly quick witted, resourceful, brave and selfless.
Having said all that, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn’t always easy reading...
1.There is a lot of dialect and it does take a while to get your eye in and figure out what the characters are saying. It helps if you read it out loud, or, as I mentioned, listen to the audio book - it does all the hard work for you.
2. It gets quite bogged down in the middle. Huck gets caught up with a pair of con artists and whilst it was mildly entertaining to begin with, that section of the book does drag on. It also gets a bit daft towards the end, when Huck and Tom Sawyer are trying to free Jim to prevent him being sold back into slavery. They could get him out quite easily, but instead go to huge (and unnecessary) lengths over it for their own entertainment.
3. There are some sensitive issues in the book – it deals with racism, slavery, child abuse, neglect and alcoholism. Twain doesn't condone any of these things, but he does write about them in a matter of fact way – from the point of view of the characters at the time. I think you really have to view it as a historical lesson, but if you are sensitive to such issues, it might not be the book for you.
On the whole, I really enjoyed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading, the characters were really well written and the language is amazing. You can see why it's held up as a paragon of American Literature, and why it influenced so many other writers. Just don't expect a jolly childhood romp, because it actually covers some pretty meaty issues.
I love Huck’s adventures more than Tom’s, but Tom’s are worth reading, too.
Southern Gothic is my favourite. O’Connor, Faulkner, McCullers, Welty and Capote are the ones I’ve read. I keep meaning to read McCarthy as well. Who are your go-tos?
Capote and McCullers are probably my favourites, though I love a bit of Tennessee Williams too! And I’ve read some O Henry in the past which I enjoyed, so might check out some more of his work. I think I once tried to read a McCarthy (don’t ask me which one) but didn’t get very far with it… and I literally just bought an O’Connor the other day – haven’t investigated her yet.
I’ve read a couple of more modern books that were really good – American Rust by Philipp Meyer – that one’s actually set in Pennsylvania but it reads like Southern lit. He’s been compared to Faulkner and McCarthy too. I thought it was great. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin was also fab (as far as I can remember!). I have another one of his sat on my shelves about the 1927 Mississippi flood which I’ll get around to eventually.
I’ll get around to Tom Sawyer at some point as well. Too many books, not enough time. Sigh.
Flannery O’Connor is one of my favourite writers ever. I’ll have a look for some Tom Franklin. I forgot about Tennessee Williams! I’ve never tried O Henry. Blood Meridian was recommended to me as a good intro to McCarthy – the person who recommended it said his 80 year old mum had loved it.
Well maybe I’ll get around to McCarthy again – he’ll have to join the back of the queue though! My Flannery O’Connor arrived and it was definitely not in the “excellent condition” described. So I complained and they gave it me for free. So I will enjoy it all the more 🙂
That’s a good result! Which one is it? I love the collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find and the novel Wise Blood, which is indescribably strange and unsettlingly funny.