Monday, August 16, 2010

Bleak House

by Charles Dickens

Wow-wow-wow-wow-WOW! I can't believe how good this book is. I've read some other Dickens, including the obligatory A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but I wasn't able truly to appreciate the genius of Dickens until adulthood.

I think it's important to want to read Dickens, because if you don't, and you read it lazily or quickly or superficially — the way I did most of the books I read for high school, and even college — you miss so much just in the simple facts of the plot, let alone the more intricate details. I mean, how did I manage to "read" every single word in A Tale of Two Cities and then immediately afterward fail to recognize names of characters or major plot points? Sloppy, careless reading, that's how.

Now that I'm older and I have more patience, I'm not only able but also enjoy being able to read closely and to savor the challenge of Victorian grammar and circuitous tact. The perfect example, one that I shared with several people while still reading this book, is when one of the characters dies of spontaneous combustion: if you weren't paying attention, you could breeze right through the four-sentence paragraph explaining it and only realize half a page later that something important happened that you totally missed. It's an important event in terms of the plot, but also by its very nature — spontaneous freakin' combustion! — and yet Dickens' description seems restrained and ambiguous to a modern reader accustomed to straightforward language and artless fiction.

Like most of Dickens' novels, Bleak House is a social critique (lambasting, in this case, the legal system), but it's also a suspenseful mystery and a love story (or several love stories, technically). It's also widely regarded as Dickens' most mature work, whatever that's supposed to mean. After reading the novel, I read both the introduction to this edition and the appendicized G.K. Chesterton intro to an earlier addition. Both agreed about the supposed maturity of the work, but for rather different reasons. Either way, this is one gee-dee fantastic book. Two plot twists made me gasp out loud, and at several points I had to cover the pages to stop myself from skipping ahead — it's that good. (Tempting to put it in the Top 10...)

No comments: