Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Title: Bleak House
Author: Charles Dickens
Publication Date: 1853
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Often considered Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, Bleak House blends together several literary genres—detective fiction, romance, melodrama, and satire—to create an unforgettable portrait of the decay and corruption at the heart of English law and society in the Victorian era.

Opening in the swirling mists of London, the novel revolves around a court case that has dragged on for decades—the infamous Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, in which an inheritance is gradually devoured by legal costs. As Dickens takes us through the case’s history, he presents a cast of characters as idiosyncratic and memorable as any he ever created, including the beautiful Lady Dedlock, who hides a shocking secret about an illegitimate child and a long-lost love; Mr. Bucket, one of the first detectives to appear in English fiction; and the hilarious Mrs. Jellyby, whose endless philanthropy has left her utterly unconcerned about her own family.

As a question of inheritance becomes a question of murder, the novel’s heroine, Esther Summerson, struggles to discover the truth about her birth and her unknown mother’s tragic life. Can the resilience of her love transform a bleak house? And—more devastatingly—will justice prevail?--Summary From Goodreads
Let me start off this review by saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLES DICKENS!!! Okay, now that that is covered I'll tell you what I think of Bleak House.

Bleak House is the sort of book that you have to be determined to read. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just really LONG and Dickens can get a bit long winded. For me it wasn’t so much about enjoying the book as it was a point of pride to finish it. If you want to get the story and meet the fantastic characters, check out the amazing 2005 BBC miniseries. It’s 8 ½ hours long and it’s very close to the book.

All that being said, the book is pretty enjoyable. Dickens is a master at creating believable characters, both likable and unlikable. I really loved Esther. Sometimes I thought she was a little too perfect, but then I realized that she’s an unreliable narrator. It’s not that she’s trying to make herself look good, she’s just trying not to dwell on the past and convince herself that everything is alright and that she is content. There’s a lot of insight into her character in moments she brushes off or downplays her reaction to events in the story. I loved her relationship with John Jarndyce, Ada, and Richard. Even though they had never met before Jarndyce took them in, they became a family. Their little group was just so friendly and loveable, I hate to see strife enter their relationships. And I absolutely love Allen Woodcourt (even though he isn’t in much of the book), he has a heart of gold. He is exactly how I like my book boyfriends.

This story has a very large cast of characters and the plot is stretched over such a long time that the only reason I was able to keep everything straight was because I had watched the miniseries beforehand. If I hadn’t, I would have wondered if there was any plot at all, but there is and, eventually, everything gets explained. You just have to have patience and determination. Dickens loves having characters connected in ways you couldn’t imagine and plenty of strands of plot going every which way. I cannot believe that he was writing this while he was publishing it (it came out monthly).

Bleak House is not a cakewalk, especially if you are not used to reading classics, but if you are determined to read it then go for it! It is by no means an unenjoyable book. And don’t worry about taking your time reading it, it took me over 6 months.


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