Just great

If A Tale of two cities is my desert island book, Great Expectations runs it pretty close. This is one of those books that I forget how good it is, until I re-read it, and am struck again by Dicken's complete brilliance. It's a pretty chunky read, but the narrative, in common with Two cities, is kept firmly to the point, so we don't go off into endless digressions or sub-plots as with Pickwick Papers, or Oliver Twist. Probably for this reason the narrative flow is very strong, and propels you along as inexorably as the River Thames runs through the heart of the book.

The basic plot is pretty simple, an orphan Pip gets a nasty surprise one weekend when he runs into an escaped convict on the Kentish marshes and is forced to steal food from his sister's house for the convict. Once the convict is recaptured and Pip's crime has gone unnoticed, life looks up for Pip when he is introduced to the wealthy and eccentric Miss Havisham, and her ward, the beautiful aloof Estella. Pip starts to have dreams of marrying Estella and moving up in society, away from his probable future as a blacksmith on the desolate marshes. And then, one day, it happens, a mystery benefactor bestows immense wealth on Pip, who moves to London abandoning his loyal stepfather and friends in Kent. Pip soon becomes an out-and-out snob, but a reality check is awaiting him....

This is beautifully written, with some great characterisation and humour; also a touch of grand guignol in the over-the-top Miss Havisham. Dickens cleverly overturns all our preconceptions in this novel, you'd have to be very hard-hearted not to feel for Magwitch, the ex-criminal, at the end of the novel. The only part of the novel that I felt didn't work quite so well was the very end with the reconciliation of Pip and Estella. I only discovered recently that Dickens, himself, had problems with this and wrote two possible endings. Both are rather weak, and apparently in the latest film adaptation there is to be yet another ending - it will be interesting to see if the writer can improve upon Dickens. But this is just a minor quibble - Great Expectations is a gem of a novel - if you've never read a Victorian novel before, this is the one to read.


betsy said…
I am partial to" Bleak House", which has many subplots. It stands up well to re-reading-
Book-hound said…
Bookhound here (for some strange reason Blogger doesn't always allow me to comment!)

I have tried to read "Bleak House" in the past, and have never got very far with it. I think it's been the subplots that I have found very off-putting. But I know it's supposed to be a really great novel with lots of people citing it as their favourite Dickens, so I must give it another go. Thanks for recommending it.

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