I picked up HOWARDS END purely because they have an awful lot of Forster at Henderson Books, and so I figured I ought to get on the ball and read some. I did, and was quite pleased--were I to describe HOWARDS END in one word, I might choose "delightful" ("clever" might work, too, but it doesn't sum it up quite as nicely as "delightful" does, so we'll go with "delightful").
What impressed me most about Forster was his ability to tease his characters without belittling them. What do I mean? Well, Tom Robbins, for example, is bad at this. When he wants to provide a little distance from his characters and have a little fun at their expense (say, in a satirical way), he manages to make me hate them. I've had the sense several times, while reading a Robbins novel, that he delibately tries to prevent me from ever empathizing with a character, because every time I get close he throws in some snide comment about the character's motive that completely turns me off--and then I start to get paranoid that he's attempting to sabotage any budding relationship that I might have with the character.
Which is beside the point, really. What I'm getting at is that Forster managed to play up his characters' flaws and quirks in a charming way that enabled me to see them as full, fleshed-out beings, imperfections and all, while still allowing me to like them. I love this. I really love loving characters.
Which is also a bit beside the point. The point is that I really liked HOWARDS END, not least because Forster's commentary on English culture in 1910 was surprisingly relevent to our culture today (there is a passage on Christmas shopping that particularly resonates). It is also a great book to precede the gi-normous heap o' literature that I'm currently reading, which is The Idiot, which so far is awesome. I'm not sure why, but reading the books in sequence (though they're utterly unrelated, as far as I know) seems to work.