I struggled with this book a little at first, especially when I had a hard time liking some of the main characters. Most of the men in the book were quite unpleasant or even despicable in some way, whereas the women seemed more interesting to me, as they struggled to be independent of and respected by the men in their lives.
The story focuses on a number of people with some connection to writing or publishing in some form. Some of them are struggling to do good work, while others just want to gain some notoriety. I found some of the “industry” issues interesting, as a few might as well be happening today (the idea of writing shorter, easier to read pieces for a less attentive audience, for example).
I did have a hard time seeing this as happening in the 1880s though, mainly because the writing style seemed a little more modern to me, at least compared to other works from this time. I kept thinking they were in the 1900s at the very least, or perhaps a little later. I also kept making comparisons between some of the characters and those in The Forsyte Chronicles (Alfred Yule and Soames Forsyte, Jasper Milvain and Michael Mont, etc.).
The writing style, although it felt a little more modern, was a bit of a slog at points. The dialogue between certain characters felt extremely formal and overdone, and not enough like natural language. And some of the philosophical tangents were a bit dull and heavy-handed.
Overall, I thought it was an interesting, albeit not very uplifting or happy, book, but I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to. But I think I’ll still look into some of Gissing’s other books, after this initial introduction.