Thursday, 15 August 2013

Long day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’neill (3/5)

First published: 1956 (but written in 1941-42)
Page count: 156

The back says: A spoilery review from The Times, here’s Wiki.
I say: This is another classic title that I’ve heard of all my life but never really bothered to find out what it entailed. Even when I bought it last year, I did so because it was a classic, but then put it on the shelf and forgot about it.

Until now...
I never rarely read synopses of classics anymore because they always tend to be full of spoilers, and this time I’m really glad of that because I enjoyed trying to figure out what was wrong with Mary Tyrone.

The play starts right after breakfast and ends just after midnight – hence the title – and it is the type of play that I’ve lately come to really enjoy; a family full of secrets that slowly unravel. At the beginning we learn that Mary has recently returned from somewhere and her husband James and their two sons Jamie and Edmund are trying very hard not to upset her. She is extremely self-conscious and as the play progresses we learn where she’s been and why the family is so anxious to act friendly around her.

I am not going to say what her problem is, because I enjoyed figuring it out before it was revealed and perhaps others do as well.
James and Jamie don’t get along for various reasons; the classic father disappointed in his son plot; and although Jamie and Edmund are close brothers, there is, not exactly a sibling rivalry, but an animosity of sorts between them – more so from Jamie who resents Edmund for a lot of reasons. Edmund tries to act as the peace keeper in the family, but even he loses his temper several times during the day.

The entire play is of the family trying to tip-toe around each other and their issues, but failing miserably and fighting intensely.
Then they stop and apologise.

Talk in soft tones for a bit.
And then someone says something and they’re off again.

It was a tiring family to be around and I found their pettiness exhausting. They all resented each other for things they both could and couldn’t change, but instead of trying to work them out, they argued.
And drank.

They drank a lot.
There were a couple of surprises along the way, but mostly it was you classic dysfunctional family. It is autobiographical and in the dedication to his wife O’Neill says that it’s a “play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” It is a stark and emotional play and the reason it gets 3/5 is because the level of dysfunction was uncomfortable to read. I think I would prefer to see it live; there is so much in Mary’s facial expressions and mannerisms that begs to be witnessed rather than read.

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