For the first third of this book, it was absolutely five stars. Smiley handles the shifting point of view with expert hands, and I completely enjoyed seeing the world through the lens of each distinct personality. I especially loved reading from the perspectives of the Langdon children.
As the children got older, though, about twenty years in and heading into World War II, I found myself reading less deeply. There’s a way that I read when I want to luxuriate in the world of the book and another way that just gets me through the words, and I found myself doing more of the latter in the second half of the book. I didn’t follow the parts about war and politics and real estate investment and Cold War intrigue very well. I couldn’t really get into that chunk of the book—the more modern, less farm-oriented parts—but then it got more interesting to me again, and I was just feeling like I was getting back into the five-star reading from the beginning when the book ended.
I enjoyed reading about what life might have been like for my grandparents and their parents (and for my own parents as little ones), but the thing I like best about this book is the way that, when they’re young adults, the characters feel on top of things, either in control or destined to be in control of their lives, and then after a decade (or a few decades) they look around and realize that life just happened to them despite the illusion that they’d been in the driver’s seat.
“Normally, Rosanna took credit for everything, good and bad…, but now she thought, this was too much. She could not have created this moment, these lovely faces, these candles flickering, the flash of the silverware, the fragrances of the food hanging over the table, the heads turning this way and that, the voices murmuring and laughing…as if on cue, Walter…looked at Rosanna, and they agreed in that instant: something had created itself from nothing.” (332)
I find that feeling of being mere flotsam in the flow of time both comforting and terrifying—and utterly true.
I enjoyed this one, but because my favorite bits were on the farm and reading that less and less of the second and third books of the trilogy involve the farm, I’m not sure I’ll pick up the other two “Last Hundred Years” books.