You probably won't be surprised to hear that my reading this year has been focused on the Old West. I wasn't expecting to fall in love with or even very much enjoy the novel The Virginian by Owen Wister - but I did, and I fell hard. It's now proudly on my shortlist of Absolute Favourites.
I'm borrowing the following words from my review on Goodreads:
This novel was written in 1902, and while it was a runaway bestseller, it was also considered rather daring. To me it feels so far ahead of its time. It is so free in terms of gender roles. Women can take on masculine roles just as courageously and competently as anyone else. Men can express affection for each other in romantic terms. Indeed, the whole thing can be read as a love letter from the unnamed Narrator to the unnamed Virginian (both men), and the Narrator often remarks on the Virginian's myriad attractions.
The prose is lightly and clearly written - so easy to read, and a perfect match for what Struthers Burt (in the Introduction) describes as "the spacious and lucid country" in which the story is set. There is no shrinking from the realities of sex or violence, but these matters are talked of both delicately and directly - not at all squeamishly - and this is perhaps part of what made the novel so daring.
All these things are wonderful - so wonderful, even today! But what really makes this novel so awesome is the wisdom and clarity with which the author writes about emotions. Complexities are explored, and at times conveyed in a few elegant, honest words that get right to the heart of the matter.