Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

bleakhouseTitle: Bleak House
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Classic
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.

Goodreads blurb: Bleak House opens in the twilight of foggy London, where fog grips the city most densely in the Court of Chancery. The obscure case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, in which an inheritance is gradually devoured by legal costs, the romance of Esther Summerson and the secrets of her origin, the sleuthing of Detective Inspector Bucket and the fate of Jo the crossing-sweeper, these are some of the lives Dickens invokes to portray London society, rich and poor, as no other novelist has done. Bleak House, in its atmosphere, symbolism and magnificent bleak comedy, is often regarded as the best of Dickens. A ‘great Victorian novel’, it is so inventive in its competing plots and styles that it eludes interpretation.

Well, where to begin in reviewing this monster of a book? I’m a bit lost, honestly, as my feelings about it are so up and down. I think I’ll just hit the high points of my thoughts.

~ I wish I had heard the suggestion to record all the characters and their roles, relationships, and occupations on a note card BEFORE I started reading. There were so many characters, and it was hard to keep them – and their relationships with one another – straight.

~ Dickens likes his lengthy descriptions, doesn’t he? Yes, he can write like nobody’s business, but sometimes I simply wanted to read the STORY, and I found myself wishing he would get on with things.

~ Esther’s narrative was by far my favorite, with Lady Dedlock’s coming in a close second. I loved reading these sections, and couldn’t stop reading when they finally converged.

~ When I realized that the house was actually named Bleak House, I thought maybe the book wasn’t actually bleak and depressing. I was wrong. Talk about tragic, with three characters that I liked coming to their ends.

~ If I had been reading this one on my own, I would have been tempted to give up on it. I’m glad it was a challenge book, because that kept me reading, and I ended up loving the last three hundred pages.

~ Reading 989 pages by Dickens is very different than reading a chunkster of the same length by someone like Stephen King. The language is so different that I have to read much more slowly. I thought 40 or so pages a day was a very modest goal; I was wrong. I also discovered that I simply had to set it aside at times and read something more modern, or else my eyes would glaze over and I wouldn’t comprehend what I was reading.

Well, there you have it. At least I can say I finished the darn thing! Thanks for being patient with me as I was late finishing it.

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10 Responses to Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

  1. Karen says:

    I haven’t read this yet… and not sure I will. But I totally get what you’re saying about wishing Dickens would just get on with the story. I’m reading Lorna Doone right now, and it is tough slogging, too. Weird thing is, I think I read Lorna Doone when I was in jr. high, and I don’t remember feeling this way. I must be getting lazy in my old age.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Karen – I’ve never read Lorna Doone, but I think I saw the movie.

  2. Melissa
    Twitter: avidreader12

    I struggled with this one too. I’ve really loved some of Dickens’ chunksters, but this one was so convoluted.

  3. I had planned to join you in reading this, but the size put me off. I’m already plodding my way through War and Peace, and that’s chunkster enough for me right now. I wonder if I’d like the audio version of this better than actually reading it. Something to consider, anyway.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Wendy – I tried War and Peace, but couldn’t do it. Maybe someday. As for Bleak House, I know Neil Gaiman raved about the audiobook edition.

  4. Susan says:

    I like some of Dickens other novels but I haven’t ventured into Bleak House yet. Perhaps I will wait till I read more of his others. 989 pages is a bit much

  5. irene says:

    Bravo. You did well, I’m not sure I would have had the courage. I always feel my time is so short, that I need to really want to finish the book. Like a nice Irish mystery. I don’t think you saw my comment, you recommended a book to Joanna WWII Irish Novel? I’m dying of curiosity. What’s up next?

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Irene – I already finished this month’s challenge pick – As I Lay Dying by Faulkner. So now on to some fun just-for-me reading!