Sunday 19 August 2012
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I posted earlier in the week about my fear of Dickens so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. On the whole, it was a pleasant reading experience with the first and last thirds being the most enjoyable. The first third had the delightful gothic settings of the graveyard and Satis House and of course the first meeting with Miss Havisham, clearly the most memorable character in the book. In the last third, Pip finds out that he may have been wrong about his benefactor (I had guessed this from the start but there were some surprises in store) and the pace quickens dramatically with some great cliffhanger endings between chapters. I literally could not put the book down during the last third. Unfortunately the middle section lagged in comparison with the other two and reading about Pip's being a snobby gentleman in London became very tedious. I struggled to reach part three but was glad to have persevered once I got there.
I liked that the message of the book was to be grateful for what you have, rather than always striving for more. Pip as a blacksmith's apprentice had Joe, who was nothing but kind to him, and a potential wife in the intelligent and resourceful Biddy. He should have been happy with what he had but wanted to become 'better', which caused him a lot of hardship. He became embarrassed with the unrefined manners of Joe and put himself above everyone else. Throughout the book, Dickens shows us how false the class system can be by spreading the good/moral characters across the classes and by making many of the upper class characters miserable - money doesn't buy happiness and all that. Whilst I agreed with the message, I did feel Dickens was heavy handed in moralising in some places.
One thing that bothered me was how all the characters ended up being related or connected in some way by the end of the book, even the most unlikely ones. Dickens had a gift for creating memorable characters but his London really was a small world. I liked that the ending was full of twists and turns and links between the characters I hadn't guessed, but I was raising my eyebrows at the likelihood of some of them. I guess things were a bit too 'tidy' amongst the characters for my liking.
On the whole, whilst Dickens hasn't become my new favourite author, I wouldn't be opposed to reading more books by him (and a good thing too, because I have another four on my classics club list!). The wordiness of the middle section got to me but this was balanced by the memorable characters and how the pace was ramped up by the end of the novel. I'm glad I gave Dickens a try.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1860-1861 in serial format
My Edition: Vintage UK, 2008
Score: 3.5 out of 5