Loving Ethan Frome

In the end, after much agonising, I decided to take Ethan Frome to Tasmania.

When we arrived in Hobart, Mount Wellington had a tiny smidge of snow on its peak. Maybe it was the anticipation of snow that made me slip Ethan Frome into my bag. Not that Tassie ever gets snow like the sort that features so strongly in Edith Wharton’s American classic.

I first read it back in the late 1970s, when I was living in Canada, where snow was a big feature of every winter. So much of the story had slipped from memory but I had never forgotten how well it conjured winter. Once I was inside the story, so much of it came flooding back, especially the poignancy of young Mattie Silver’s predicament. Reading it as an adult, I can understand why it’s so widely studied in American secondary schools. The language is beautiful and the central characters are young. It’s a complex book, despite its brevity. There are so many ideas embedded in this short novel. I’m sure it’s been pulled to pieces again and again by thousand of American kids – and I suspect, sadly, that its dissection would destroy much of the pleasure of the book. Lucky Australian kids, who are never forced to read the amazing work of Edith Wharton. Does that mean we win or lose?

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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