Monday, October 22, 2007

'Bleak House' by Charles Dickens

22 October 2007

Finished it! 'Bleak House' by Charles Dickens is a very long book but I've really enjoyed the journey. It definitely helped being familiar with the plot from the BBC TV adaptation and it actually felt satisfyingly indulgent to take so long over each of the key scenes I remembered. Like most Dickens novels 'Bleak House' was originally published in instalments but, unlike some of his other books, this didn't result in a rambling plot. 'Bleak House' is tightly plotted and covers a relatively short period of time - and a fairly limited geography. The various narrative strands are interlinked and draw together with a brooding sense of fate and inevitability - and only a small amount of cheesy coincidence. The murder mystery plot that seemed to dominate the TV version comes very late in the novel and is not exploited half as much as it could have been - the conventions of detective fiction having yet to establish themselves. The structure of the book is interesting with two alternating narrators: Esther Summerson recounts her own story with hindsight in the first person while an omniscient third person narrator in the present tense shows us what is going on elsewhere. The third person narrator adds some great poetic descriptive passages: the technique of 'floating' over the streets and buildings of the Inns of Court and dropping in on various characters before flitting on to another location reminded me of 'Under Milk Wood' by Dylan Thomas. But the main attraction of Dickens is the characters - and there are some wonderful creations in 'Bleak House'. To anyone who is familiar with the story, the names themselves will always instantly recreate the distinctive personalities: Tulkinghorn, Guppy, Krook, Smallweed, Lady Dedlock, Old Mr Turveydrop, Snagsby, Caddy Jellyby, etc etc. There is a dose of sentimentality and melodrama but the book also addresses an impressive range of social and political issues within its relatively small frame. And it is often very funny. Having worked for some years in the area around Chancery Lane, there was a particular attraction for me in the geography of the story. If you too have been expecting a judgement you can now release the birds - I recommend 'Bleak House' to the court.


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