The first book of my Orbis Terrarum reading challenge is A Lost Lady by American writer Willa Cather, first published in 1923.
I like to read a book before I look at an introduction or reviews, so that my response is not influenced by what other people might say about it. It is interesting to then look back at my scribbled notes alongside the views of the critics; in this case I discovered that my understanding of the author's intention was mistaken and I had to read the book a second time with a very different perspective. My edition of A Lost Lady is from the Virago Modern Classics and has an introduction by A.S. Byatt.
I was, at first, rather disappointed by the detachment of the narrator from the characters in the story; I like to sympathise with at least one character, but I couldn't find a hero. It was not until page 100 of this 167 page novel, that I thought I understood the author's intention but there were a few surprises to follow. My reading of A.S Byatt's introduction showed that I had, in fact, made a common mistake in thinking that the book was a commentary on the loss of the grand standards of the pioneers to the "generation of shrewd young men, trained to petty economies by hard times.' In fact, Willa Cather said that she did not want her readers to care about anything in the story other than her portrait of one character - the lost lady.
The book is about Mrs Forrester, the young, vivacious and glamorous wife of the much older Captain Forrester, a respected pioneer of the western railroad. They are wealthy, popular and generous and we see their lives through the eyes of several local boys who go onto the Forresters' property to catch rabbits and fish. Various dimensions of the central characters are revealed through the very different relationships that these boys develop with Mrs Forrester, particularly after the fortunes of the Forresters and the local town are hit by the economic recession.
I didn't enjoy this as much as Willa Cather's My Antonia, but I found her use of different narrative view points interesting and I have no doubt that A Lost Lady will remain on my bookshelf to be read again. (My rating: 8/10)