Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Charles Dickens, Bleak House

This was actually a re-read for me, since I read it a few years ago for the Biblioholics Anonymous. Nevertheless, it is one of the next novels in my chronological reading of Dickens's canon: I spent about five weeks reading it, and finished it on the evening before Against The Day was released.

When you read Bleak House, you realize that you're in the presence of a masterpiece. It comes to you from the darkest corners of the novel, where even the minor characters wield significance; it comes to you from the two separative narrative points of view, at first a bit jarring but, eventually, quite necessary; it comes to you from the setting, which transports you from the mud and fog of London's streets to the sterile arrogance of Chesney Wold to the pox-ridden delapidations of Tom-All-Alone's; it comes to you from the mysteries heaped upon mysteries -- the Chancery suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce that grinds on ad infinitum, the deaths of a solitary military man and a prominant lawyer, the spontaneous combustion of a rag-and-bones shop owner, the parentage of an innocent young girl, and the sufferings of My Lady Dedlock. Throughout, mysteries are steeped in curiosities wrapped in enigmas.

The fun of Bleak House comes, in part, from watching those mysteries unfold (it is said that this is the first "detective novel," and paved the way for Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone and the fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). There is humor, but rather than the rambling, shambling slapstick of Pickwick, here you get the voice of Dickens the social satirist (via such unforgettable characters as Mrs. Jellyby and Mr. Turveytop, among others). And it is pure pleasure to watch Dickens navigate our reading through a myriad of settings and characters and plotlines, fulfilling our expectations here and subverting them there, all the while in a prose that is well-paced and beautifully rendered.

This was even better the second time around! It's long, but well worth it!

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