THE BETROTHED was so good! It's almost a perfect novel. It feels so confident and well-executed. Perhaps the only negative thing about it is also the best thing, which is that it feels in the beginning as if it's going to be an adventure novel (a la The Count of Monte Cristo) about outwitting the evil Don Rodrigo, but it's really not. There is that element, but mostly the evil plots are foiled by good luck.
Which is fine, because the book isn't about that. It's about...well, okay, there's no getting around it: the book is about Christianity and finding God and shit. It feels very much like Tolstoy, both in its scope and its message. In fact, the book even does one better than Tolstoy, because while Count Leo only talked talked about how great the peasants were, Alessandro Manzoni actually wrote a book in which the protagonists are peasants.
These are just people who're trying to make a life for themselves. And they're not better than the gentry (although the nature of their lives makes it more difficult for them to do harms), but they're not worse either, and and and and, I feel like I'm doing a bad job of describing the book. It's just so epic in scope, first of all. About two thirds of the way through, the plague breaks out, and you get an epic description of the decimation of Northern Italy.
And you also get so many wonderful capsule descriptions of little characters. Someone will walk onstage, and then the narrator will dip back into their life and describe all kinds of shit about them. But not in an out-of-control way, like Victor Hugo does. Instead it always feels like there's a capable guide.
Moreover, the religious themes get introduced slowly, and the book starts off by including negative examples: a priest who allows himself to be bullied; a nun who was forced into the convent by her wealthy family, and who schemes to commit murder. But, slowly, you see better examples. And, moreover, you see the value of the Christian God. Not the value of some abstract humility or sense of kindness: the book is about the consolation and strength one gets from feeling as if Jesus and Mary and the Holy Spirit are surrounding you.
Agh, I love this book. I wish everybody in the world could read it. If you like nineteenth century novels, you will love this book. It has everything good and nothing bad.