Tuesday 2 December 2008

Warning: Dickens' books make me extremely emotional and completely inarticulate

Oh man, I'm one weepy mess right now, having just finished reading Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens has thus far consistently overwhelmed and devastated me (when he isn't being hilarious) but this was an even more intense reading experience with him than usual. This is an amazing, brilliant, incomparable book; but I'm very tired now.

Set during the years leading up to and during the French Revolution and its most horrific period known as the Terror, A Tale of Two Cities allows to flourish what for me sets Dickens apart in a narrative sense from any other writer, save perhaps Dostoevsky: a profound sympathy for and faith in the good that humans are capable of, even in the most unthinkable circumstances. With Dostoevsky, this sympathy sometimes reads as somewhat more intellectual than emotional; with Dickens, it's all heart and that is why I find him, and especially this book, so crushing.

I am fully aware that I am not doing this book justice. I appreciate Dickens' narrator's transcendence of cold intellectualism, but I don't have the vocabulary to discuss it without sounding both maudlin and two-dimensionally sentimental. I expect mockery from certain quarters in response to this post. Since I can't do this novel justice I will only say: read this book now, if you haven't already. (And let me be a lesson to you: Don't let your grade 12 English teacher's fumbling of Great Expectations turn you off Dickens until you're an old lady! I beg of you, for your own good!!)

Potential Spoiler Alert
I will go sniffle and remain red about the nose and eyes for a little longer (or maybe a lot longer - if you've read the book, you'll know why I keep thinking "Oh Sydney, Sydney!!" right now), while I try to recover from the reading of this book enough to make some dinner.

I have to say, whatever book I read next is probably going to suffer for coming after Dickens. I think Russell Hoban is going to end up on my dead pile soon. Just the thought of going back to Pilgermann after reading A Tale of Two Cities makes me feel kind of cruelly amused and a little sick at the same time.


raych said...

I know, right! So noble! So tragic! *clutches heart*

Anonymous said...

This is the first Dickens novel I ever read, and it still makes me cry. There's still many of his novels I haven't read yet, but I know when I do read them they will be reliably good.

Bookfool said...

I started to read A Tale of Two Cities, earlier this year, but I didn't make it through. It was just too exhausting and sad -- and, at the time, I was my mother's caregiver so I really needed lighter fare. I think you did a fabulous job of describing it.

Yuri... said...

This was the first of Dickens' tales that I read as well (well before my high school teacher sucked the life out of GE, thank God) and I am now tempted to revisit it.

As, I might add, I am tempted to visit many of the books you review...

I like your review - an unbridled emotional response to a work of art seems completely natural as opposed to an exhaustive intellectual examination.

I'm glad you found words you could love once again :)

Anonymous said...

oh wait, Russell Hoban = he of The Mouse and His Child. i don't know about Pilgermann, but Mouse was amazing. especially the later edition, with the better illustrations.

Bookphilia said...

Raych!: I'm *still* clutching my heart.

Sarah: Yes, Dickens IS entirely reliable for me too. There aren't many authors to whom I would attach that adjective.

Bookfool: Sounds like you made the right choice. Sad books definitely have their time and place.

Yuri: I think most of my responses here are emotional, it's just that I feel mean more often than I feel sad or worried, etc.

Fathima: Yes, the same Hoban. I too love The Mouse and His Child, which is probably making Pilgermann even MORE unbearable for me. Not that I've picked it up again recently...