If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that for the last week I’ve been reading Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. I was really excited to get started on this book, and after I finished NOS 4R2 I pretty much got going on this one straight away. It was recommended through Twitter for anybody who was a fan of Orwell’s 1984, which I am, so I saved it to my Amazon wish list and then when a voucher came my way as a gift this was the book that I went for. So, spoiler alerts if you’re reading on, because here are my thoughts.
There are a lot of things about this book that make it appealing, but I have to be honest; the cover does a lot. It features a torn newspaper article that looks worryingly contemporary considering when my edition was printed. As well as this; the title helps. These days it feels like we are living in a world in which we watch the news, see the horror stories and the political upheaval that makes us all a bit nervous even if it’s not happened where we live, and we quietly assure ourselves with those words ‘it can’t happen here’. This alone was enough to make me want to read this book, but when I got around to seeing the blurb the deal was sealed on me buying it. The sneak preview into the character of President Windrip is somewhat uncanny and there are certain political figure heads out there today in 2018 that I couldn’t help thinking of whenever he was mentioned.
The main character of this book, Doremus Jessup, is a little weak as protagonists go. I suspect, however, that this has been done on purpose. Given the time that this novel was written, I think that Jessop was designed to represent more than one person; he could be anybody, somebody that the reader could reflect on. It’s an interesting move, and I don’t think it always pays off in this book. However, there is some strong characterisation, and the situation of Doremus in this strange world that he has found himself in is very emotive. There is something very unsettling about the whole thing, especially in the places where Doremus takes us through the manifesto of Windrip. He makes it hard not to compare It Can’t Happen Here to what is happening in 2018.
There were elements of this book that were a real struggle to read. This wasn’t just because of the subject matter. Sinclair Lewis is a very wordy writer; it takes him a long time to get to the point. It’s difficult sometimes to really keep up with what is going on as he wanders from subject to subject with little in the way of signifier that a change is coming. Despite this, the writing is beautiful. There are moments when Lewis really captures the fear that can come from hearing the news, from talking about the state of the world. He manages to tap into those corners of thought that you would rather stay away from. He does this so well though, that the writing really drags you into the story and at times you feel like you are right there with Doremus and his family, dealing with the monster of politics changing to world for the worse and telling you its good for you.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. It’s tough going but I feel it is drastically important, especially these days. Apparently it shot into the Amazon bestsellers after a certain election and to be perfectly honest; I can see why. It is definitely worth a read!Four out of five!