When I discovered this Classic
Earlier this year the Guardian Bookshop emailed me about a deal on books from APOLLO, an imprint which specialises in ‘forgotten’ modern classics. Josephine Johnson’s Now in November was one of two I ended up ordering.
Why I chose to read it
I chose Now in November over my other purchase (Bosnian Chronicle), because it’s quite short, and I was amused by the idea of matching the book title to the month.
What makes it a Classic
This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which engages with the political situation of its time in an intimate, character study without straying into polemic.
What I thought of this Classic (may contain spoilers)
Now in November is a dreamy exploration of life on a farm during The Great Depression. Some of the dreaminess comes from the sensual descriptions of the landscape; some from the narration: Marget, the middle daughter of the family, narrates, looking back at the events of Spring and Summer, but within that narration she frequently digresses further back, pinpointing the seeds of particular events in this difficult year to earlier incidents.
Marget is unflinchingly honest in detailing the increasing privations and humiliations, and increasing desperation of the summer of drought. Johnson is particularly good at demonstrating the fragility of the boundaries separating the social degrees in the community. What makes this novel truly great is Johnson’s examination of the emotional and psychological effects of this prolonged desperation and hardship on the family members. Past grievances are exacerbated by the extreme conditions in which they find themselves, with tragic consequences, and the stifling, crushing trap of debt is depicted in full.
Will it stay a Classic
The subject matter is topical, in the aftermath of the financial crisis of the past decade, and I think this novel deserves to be read as much as other classics of it’s time. Hopefully APOLLO’s championing of this, and other modern classics, will go some way toward that.
Who I’d recommend it to
This is a classic that I feel I could recommend quite widely, with the caveat that if you’re a reader who likes fast-paced action, you may struggle with the leisurely pace of this novel.