Release Date: 1853
Pages: 880 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback & Kindle
Sum It Up (from Goodreads)
Part romance, part melodrama, part detective story, the novel spreads out among a web of relationships in every level of society, from the simpleminded Sir Leicester Dedlock to Jo the street sweeper. A savage but often comic indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dicken's most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to the poorest of London slums.
By Its Cover: Big Fat Font
While there are lots of covers to choose from with this book, this is my favorite and the one I own! I found this copy in a very cool bookstore while vacationing in Miami, and I knew I had to get it... even though I could have "purchased" for free on my Kindle. Sometimes I just can't resist a cover dominated by typography.
Amen, Sister Friend: Not a Fan
Oh my goodness gracious, where do I even begin with this book? I read it over a period of three months (March, April and May) for a read-a-long hosted by Wallace at Unputdownables. I had only read one other book by Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) and loved it, so I thought it was time to try another. When I stumbled about the read-a-long, I was really excited. Here was my chance! I find that it helps me, for books like this, to read them with others. Dickens often has a bazillion characters and side story lines, so it often helps to have others that you can turn to with questions if you're confused. And I needed the accountability and schedule for this book! (Side note: the fact that I'm just now "reviewing" it shows you just how far behind I am in writing about the books I've been reading.)
Anyway, so the main character in this book is Esther Summerson. She has no idea who her parents are and has been raised by someone rather terrible. After her caretakers's death, she eventually ends up with Richard and Ada. They are wards of Mr. Jarndyce, and Esther has been chosen as their like companion (I think that's what she was?).
I had a love/hate relationship with Esther. While I felt sorry for her, she also got on my nerves. She was very modest - in the sense that she'd say, "Oh, I'm so unattractive!" And I'm still undecided on whether or not it was false modesty. She would repeat all the nice things people said about her, but then be like "I can hardly believe someone thinks that!" Basically, it got kind of old after a while.
So, I'm on the fence here with Esther. There's also Ada, but she barely has anything to say or do in the book. I think she's just beautiful. And kind of there to spur other people into action. I'm pretty sure she represents the feminine ideal, but she also has like no personality so that kind of sucks.
Literary Love: Hated One, Loved the Other
There's two love stories in this book. Ada and Richard love each other (I think they're also cousins?), but Richard is kind of a loser. He's obsessed with this legal case - Jarndyce v. Jarndyce - that would make him rich if the ruling was in his favor. But it's been in the court system for ages and ages - and cost a ton of money and caused people to commit suicide. So it's kind of depressing. His obsession with the case leads him to make some terrible choices and alienate people who truly care about him. And, like I already mentioned, Ada was basically a paper doll. Needless to say, I wasn't too invested in their love story.
Esther also has a little love story of her own, which was definitely more interesting. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book! Her suitor/crush was definitely worthy of her interest and love, so that's always nice. His mother, however, was a biyotch. She was all about him being with someone wealthy and in a good social sphere, which Esther is obviously not. I won't tell you who he is or how their story ends, but that was one part of the book I found really enjoyable.
Word Nerd: LOTS of Words
Like with Esther, I've decided I have a love/hate relationship with Charles Dickens. We'll call him Chuck. Mostly because I have some things he needs to hear, and I need us to be one nickname basis to say it.
Chuck is a fabulous writer. This book had like nine million plot strings and characters and yet he tied them all together at the end in this totally makes sense kind of ending. However, that still meant he had like nine million plot strings and characters. In a 900 page book. And for the love of everything it was hard to remember who was who.
He's incredible at characterization - his people come alive off the page. But after so many bumbling fools, vain and pretentious idiots, and mysterious "are they good or bad?" type characters, I could barely keep track. Or be interested. Like, I'm sorry Chuck, but make some edits.
I have to admit, I got weary of this book after awhile. Once I finished, I could appreciate it for its intricacy, storytelling, characterization and general Dickens-ness. While I was reading it, however, I was kind of ready to cast it aside around page 500. Not much had happened at that point. Except there were poor people. And a mysterious case. And Mr. Jarndyce took care of his wards.
Most of the action took place in the last 200 pages or so. That's a lot to read before something finally happens. I mean, things do happen but they're very small scale type incidents. Episodes, if you will. Thank goodness for the read-a-long group that kept me motivated!
"His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely more respectable. He has a general opinion that the world might get on without hills, but would be done up without Dedlocks."
"...and at a bookcase full of the most inexpressive-looking books that ever had anything to say for themselves."
"Why, Mrs. Piper has a good deal to say, chiefly in parentheses and without punctuation, but not much to tell."
Bottom Line: Once Was Enough
I know I didn't really tell you barely anything that actually happened in Bleak House. There's a good reason for that. One: the whole book basically hangs on things being secrets that are discovered and brought to light. Two: it's not that fresh in my memory anymore. Unfortunately, I wrote this two months after finishing it (bad blogger!). I have all my notes I took while reading, but these are my general thoughts wayyyyy after the fact.
Dickens is awesome, but his book takes some commitment! I'm glad I read it, but I also won't likely read it again. Once was enough for this book! I plan on reading some more Dickens (I really do love his writing), but I'm going to wait a while to start another by him. My brain needs a break!