I began BLEAK HOUSE back on April 6th, and finished it this morning over coffee. It’s a book of wonderful noise and beauty. The characters will stay in my memory the rest of my days. The images (with just a bit of help from Phiz’s illustrations) are a reader’s friend and a writer’s “how-to” guide. Beyond each of these, the long-long-long story held my attention throughout.
Dickens wrote the book over 20 months, publishing each monthly installment (the last being a double issue) in his own magazine. The installments ran about three chapters each, and end in some dramatic way. Hollywood has nothing on Dickens; perhaps they learned through him!
What struck me most as I read daily was the patient and intricate way Dickens exposed his characters. You immediately know something unusual about a person (a facial tic; a manner of dress; a gesture of hands, fingers, eyes; a repetitive speaking tic), which then blossoms into the full human being, whereby each petal represents a part of his or her life.
My favorite character was Mr Bucket, a detective with the Metropolitan Police, who, despite the “low” position he has in Victorian society, proved himself to be a humane man and dutiful copper. My least favorite was Richard, a ward of the court through the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case that “ignites” and “consumes” the bulk of the story, in one way or another. Richard proved foolish and allowed his passion for “justice” to drag him into the mire that was Chancery case law. Naturally, this was Dickens’s intent, and there is a moral to the story.
In fact, there are all kinds of morals set within BLEAK HOUSE. It’s an encyclopedia of Asopian learning: beware poverty; know your place; work hard and reward comes to you; etc…etc…etc.
The novel’s length can be off-putting; so too, but infrequently, the language of characters and their mannered (or ill-mannered) approach to life. However, my advice is to buy a nice hardcover edition w/illustrations, and take your time. For me (who is still getting used to reading e-books) this book should not be read digitally. It has honor to it, and history.
As a writer (and teacher of mentor to fiction writers), I must say that this book (and other of Dickens’s books) is a fabulous primer on how to tell story, develop characters, manage plot, mix narrative and dialogue, and even end the story with drama that is fulfilling.
My new novel has just been published: “Max, the blind guy” is the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This book is available in print at Amazon.com. On June 12, 2015 the digital edition will begin publishing in 12 monthly installments. Come by MarkBeyer : Author and read an excerpt that you won’t find at on-line bookshops.
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.