Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston: Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

I received Their Eyes Were Watching God in the March Feminist Book Box from Hachette, which happened to be both my first book box, and the first Feminist Book Box! I was so excited it had been chosen, because I was aware of Zora Neale Hurston, and this novel, but only had it on the edges of my radar. It was one that I had heard of, and would have eventually wanted to read, but it being included in the book box gave me the perfect opportunity to read!

The edition included has an introduction by Zadie Smith, who praises the book very highly. She speaks of her personal connection to the book, as well as her discovery of it as a young person. I found having the opportunity to read her insight into the book super interesting, though it did include some spoilers I suppose, if you’re fussed about that. Personally, with this kind of book, I’m not, because the audience’s enjoyment of the book is not predicated on a feeling of suspense that often comes with mystery/thriller books or science fiction/fantasy.

The book itself is one of the more dialogue heavy books I’ve read, which I found refreshing. The characters also speak in dialect, which is something I always like in books. In this book, I had no trouble discerning what the characters were saying, and I also enjoy that the use of dialect helps to immediately give the character a voice in my head that is distinct from the narrator’s, and distinct from my own voice.

Their Eyes Were Watching God follows Janie, mostly through her romantic life. Throughout the course of the book, Janie has three husbands, each of them wed and lost under different circumstances. While Janie certainly experiences her fair share of tragedy, I wouldn’t categorise this book alongside other books that explore Black trauma. Towards the start of the novel, race relations are touched upon, but for the majority of the book, white people don’t figure in Janie’s story at all. This was a refreshing change for me, as I realise while reading this that many of the books with Black protagonists that I’ve read feature racism as a major theme. While this is, of course, an important topic to read about, I do believe that it’s also important to read stories featuring Black protagonists that focus on other themes. Racism, in the backdrop of this book, has a huge effect on Janie’s life, but the themes of the story steer the focus away, towards a more individual telling.

The characters Hurston creates in this book are really well-written and developed, and my opinions of certain characters definitely changed as I read the book, which for me is a sign of great development, and character arcs. Janie was a character that I liked and enjoyed reading throughout, while the men went up and down in my estimation, pretty much in tandem with the rise and fall of Janie’s opinions of them. While the novel is not told in first person, it does show plenty of Janie’s perspective, and it’s an incredibly powerful one. As a Black woman in the 1930s, Janie’s quest to find her own identity is not an easy one, yet she is able to carve out a place for herself.

As I mentioned, a large portion of this book is told through dialogue, but those parts that are not are frequently breathtaking. The use of prose in this book is incredible. Hurston is able to paint pictures, draw parallels, and create stunning scenes through her prose. Out of everything in this book, this has to be my favourite aspect, and for me, it’s on par with Woolf’s prose in To the Lighthouse, which is pretty much the most impressed I’ve ever been by the use of language. I just wish there was a little bit more of it here! Fortunately, though, Hurston has three other novels that I’ll have to read to find more of her amazing prose.

This is definitely a book that I would recommend to pretty much any reader. Please don’t be put off the use of dialect and dialogue in this book, because I really found that after a couple of chapters, I had the grip of the language and I was able to understand the meaning without having to really stop and consider each word, and it’s always easy to follow speakers throughout the sections of dialogue. This is a really enjoyable read, and it’s also very touching in places. It’s an emotional book, for sure. If you’re a fan of adult fiction, in particular modern classics and beautiful prose, please pick up this book!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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3 thoughts on “Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston: Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

  1. […] Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston. 4 stars.I received this one in my first Feminist Book Box, and I’m really glad that it was one of the books picked! I was dimly aware of this one, but it was very much on my periphery. When I received it in the box, and read the blurb, I was pretty certain it was one that I was going to enjoy, and I really did! It’s a different read to anything else I’ve read, which was refreshing. It’s a dialgoue heavy, dialect book, with great character arcs. Find my review here. […]

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