The next up on my reading of the 306 greatest books is Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. This book can be found on the Sybervision Book List, the Observer Book List, and My Book List.
Vanity Fair had sat on my shelf for many years because I was not in the mood for more of the 18th century "romance novels". The kind of novels that were exemplified by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen's works. They are all right to read once, but too much of that stuff wears me down. I feel there is no real "meat" in those books, just all fluff. Vanity Fair, though, is not one of those 18th century romances. In fact, it is the quintessential opposite in which Thackeray purposely makes fun of those novels in his presentation. Thackeray's main characters are often vain ("vanity" is in the title), selfish, petulant, and immoral. Everything you wouldn't expect from an 18th romance novel. This actually made it a pleasant reading experience. I even laughed out loud at several instances throughout the book. The book is set up as written by someone who is acquainted with the main characters and is narrating their story as a storyteller would. This goes so far as to even have the narrator frequently making reference to the fact that you are reading a book that he is retelling. In terms of story, the main character, Becky Sharp, is not a hero. She is not even likable through much of the story. The only time that she may actually be likable is when you aren't sure if she is being sincere, which I am not convinced ever happens. Although she is the main character, the plot of the story works its way through two main families (the Crawleys and the Osbornes) as well, taking it's leave of Becky when other story lines would take precedent. The plot and time moves steadily on throughout the story with characters coming and going as needed. My main problem with the book, though is that even though the writing is very well done, the story itself is rather dull at times. At over 700 pages long, it takes a long time to work through the narrative. The story could have been trimmed up pretty easily making the pace move a bit faster. I would often get bored of reading the book and need to put it down for a few days because there was nothing drawing me to read more. However, as I moved on towards the end I felt the urge to keep reading build up. Overall, I would say that the story was enjoyable, and funny at times, if not a little bit long winded, but a recommend nonetheless.