Up front it’s probably best to make the position clear – I thought this book failed to do what it set out to achieve. The reason is because of the style and the devices used to address the reader. For a book that is meant to be a passionate plea to enjoy life and the fruits of the earth from a man who thinks he is dying it lacks punch. Even in his introduction Andre Gide almost sets it up for a fall admitting that in a decade only 500 copies of the book sold.
The narrator is addressing the reader to embrace life listing themes and experiences with a constant attempt to increase the fervour of the reader. The narrator is addressing a figure called Nathaniel and within his recollections asks advice from a character Menalcas, that is meant to be Oscar Wilde (according to the dust jacket blurb). The chapters are usually themed, for instance drink and food, and contain a mixture of prose and poetry. But there is a second book included that rather than looking at nature and the fruits of the earth focuses on some specific anecdotes as evidence that the best approach to take to life is through communism. Even in the communist part of the book there is a constant theme of loving nature and loving God, who Gide views as being the creator and therefore responsible for all the good things. Man made vices and problems are not to be confused with the good that nature can provide.
Is it well written?
It can be confusing, difficult to follow and ultimately can leave you feeling unrewarded. Because of the chapters being broken up with front pieces and in the second book the text rarely taking up more than the top half of a page there are also style issues that add to the difficulties for the reader. But the real problem is that the central idea about living life to the full only occasionally comes to the surface with the poetry, Oscar Wilde figure and the style of writing all getting in the way.
Should it be read?
As an introduction to Gide I suspect there are better starting points. The attraction of Fruits of the Earth is slightly oversold on the dust jacket. There are some parts that are genuinely inspiring, particularly when he is describing the way we all take for granted the beauty of nature or forget the first time we felt love or felt like rulers of the world after getting drunk. But there is too much confusion for most readers and the consequence is that this will understandably get left to one side.
Enjoy life while you still have the chance and remember the beauty of nature.
Version read – Penguin Modern Classics paperback