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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bleak House

by Charles Dickens
audiobook: 39.25 hours
narrated by David Case
first published in 1852-1853

When I read this in my high school English class in the early 1990s I really enjoyed it.  I can't remember exactly WHY that is, and I was probably the only one in the class who DID like it, but that was not unusual for me. :)  I do remember learning what spontaneous combustion means, and I also remember that I admired Dickens for his use of symbols (something I'm sure the teacher pointed out to us).  I've been wanting to revisit this book to see if I would still like it now so The Zen Leaf's read-a-long was a must-do for me. 



Rather than a traditional review I'm going to fall back on a simple list to share my thoughts on this read-a-long experience.  [If you want a summary of the book check out the Wikipedia entry for Bleak House.Please note that this WILL contain spoilers!
  • I generally enjoy Dickens' writing style - this book was no exception.
  • The story was easy for me to get into from the start.  I remembered very little of the plot or characters so it was almost like experiencing the story for the first time.
  • At first, the narrator reminded me of Frederick Davidson (a narrator whose voice grates on my nerves) and I got rather panicky.  But I quickly realized that David Case is much more talented and definitely does a better job, so I was ok.
  • Around the halfway point I took a break to allow the rest of the read-a-long to catch up to me.  This was a bad idea.  When I went back to the book a week or so later I had a VERY hard time getting back into it and my mind kept wandering.  I think that, for me, Dickens is an author I need to immerse myself in and not come up for air until I'm through.  I find him much more enjoyable that way.  So I decided to finish listening to the book at my own pace, even if that meant basically dropping out of the read-a-long.
  • I love how Dickens connects every character to the larger story.  No one is superfluous, though they may seem that way in the beginning.  Everything is connected, everything is important.
  • Just as I did in high school, I still love the way the decay of the court of chancery is shown through the various characters and even through the mud and the weather - Dickens is a master at this kind of thing.  Yes, he is rather obvious with it, and you'd never call him subtle, but I enjoy it all the same.
  • Although I started off loving Esther, by the end of the book I felt like she was just too perfect.  She never gets upset, always does the right thing, etc.  She didn't feel real to me in the end. And why do Mr. Jarndyce, Richard, and Ada insist on calling her Dame Durden and other names?  To me it is very demeaning, but to Esther and everyone else it is meant in an affectionate way.  This is my biggest complaint about the book - Dickens view of an admirable woman is very skewed.
  • When Mr. Bucket was introduced I remembered that I liked him for some reason, and that opinion was strengthened as I continued with the story.  I also really liked George, and Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet  - their portions of the story were some of my favorites.
  • There are a whole host of characters that I disliked, but again, that is something Dickens excels at - creating despicable, over-the-top characters.
  • I found some parts of the story to be predictable and I can't tell if I was unconsciously remembering more of the book that I thought I was (I definitely could not have said more than 2 sentences to summarize it before I started listening to it) or if it really was predictable.  Did anyone else realize early on that Esther was Lady Dedlock's daughter, and that Esther would eventually marry Alan Woodcourt?
In the end, I did enjoy this book but I can't say that I loved it.  I am glad I revisited it though.  This experience has me questioning some other old favorites of mine, specifically A Tale of Two Cities.  That was a book I really, REALLY loved and that I read more than once.  I wonder if it would hold up to a revisit better than Bleak House ...

4 comments:

Jenny Girl said...

Glad to read that you enjoyed revisiting an old friend.
Except for A Christmas Carol I have never read any Dickens.
PBS had the Bleak House mini-series a few years back, but I wanted to read the book first. It's sitting on my nightstand patiently waiting for me. Your review is making me want to pick it up today. Thanks Heather :)

Amanda said...

What's funny is that I didn't even notice the whole weather cues with chancery and stuff. In fact, there were tons of symbolism too obvious for me to see... maybe it's just because I was trying so hard just to wade through the text...

GMR said...

Ooh...re-reads can be TOUGH! You're pitting your adult mind against a book you fell in love with at a different age....and sometimes your tastes change even if you don't realize it. Glad to hear that although it was quite as shiny in your eyes this time around, it still held it's own fairly well. Congrats on the re-read and hopefully your next one will work out as well or even better. ^_^

Heather J. said...

Jenny Girl - I've heard good things about the mini-series, and I've also heard that watching it before reading the book helps the book to make more sense. I'm one of the few read-a-long participants who actually enjoyed this book so I'm hesitant to recommend this one, but maybe you'd be like me and really enjoy it!

Amanda - It might be b/c I vaguely recall learning about the symbolism, but it was very apparent to me ... but again, I like Dickens' writing and am always looking for symbols in his books. Thanks for hosting this read-a-long - I'm proud of you for getting through the book when you hated it so much! LOL

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