Friday, February 10, 2012

Summer Reads: Bleak House

Over the past month I've been reading from this pile of books from my local library.

After having the genius idea of borrowing Charles Dickens' Bleak House which is probably the thickest book I've ever read...  well, I haven't read too much else.  I'm the type of manic reader who can read a novel a day.

Bleak House is five or six novels.


This large volume has been my dear friend for the last few weeks.  It came with me to the doctor's waiting room, to Nonna's house (there was waiting involved), in my carry on luggage on an aeroplane (I know, I'm crazy), and it kept my company during a seven hour delay at the airport.

When I finished the final page (the 1010th page including appendices), I felt compelled to throw a party for the book.  It was a long and epic journey.

Verdict: Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

(Wait, before I begin the verdict I will point out that I actually did read two other books from my pile before I started Bleak House.  Verdicts will fall on those ones too.)

One of the primary reasons I read Charles Dickens is because he always finishes his stories with happy endings.  That might sound like a silly reason, but trust me, many authors (especially in and around his time period) decide to take realism too far and end their books with everyone dead, or poor, or bored.  Booo.
A secondary reason for reading Charles Dickens is that he puts so much work into each story.  After so much effort and time it would be terrible if no one ever read his books.  So I read.

I picked Bleak House because I recently watched the BBC's mini-series of the book.  I thought this would help me get through the book.  If you have never read any Dickens I wouldn't recommend BH as your first - maybe try Oliver Twist or Great Expectations, THEN when you have a month free of other reading material, jump right in!
Bleak House is a mystery.  Literally and figuratively.  Described as Dickens' 'page turner', BH has not one, but two mystery/detective stories winding through it.  It's a mystery because both mysteries are seemingly related but in the end you're left wondering if they really were.  Well, I was anyway.
BH is also at times bitterweet.  Hilarious.  Quirky.  Weird.  Subtle.  Spooky.  Ironic.  And possibly heretical.

Dickens was a master of social satire, so the whole time I was reading I had the feeling that the author was taking some things like London's High Court of Chancery, or the aristocratic Deadlock family, a little too seriously.
BH also contains a stifling amount of letters, wills, documents, secret papers, and a whole tribe of men with strange names and secret motives:  Mr. Tulkinghorn, Mr. Guppy, Mr. Weevle...

Dickens' succeeded in holding my interest throughout the whole book with his complex plot - quite a feat.

If nothing else, read BH because it gives you a glimpse into Dickens' 19th century London.  A place of the past, it can only be visited today in the pages of a book.

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