After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille the aging Dr Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There, two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil lanes of London, they are all drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror and soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
So I says to myself, I says, “why haven’t I done any Dickens reviews?”. Tthen, having had a mental blockage and debated for an inordinate amount of time on where I should put the question mark in relation to the speech marks, not to mention why I talk to myself. I have finally decided to get my act together and I shall hopefully be able to avoid using the phrase ‘What the Dickens!’ at least for a while.
Set at the time of the French revolution, love does what it does best here and draws unsuspecting persons into danger and heartache. This dramatic story is one of brutality and tenderness, which is – for me at any rate – truly a tale of two halves.
Having read four and a half other books by Mr D, I found myself a little surprised as this wasn’t the style that I am accustomed too. There are a noticeable lack of humorously odd names for the characters, and of course a lot of it is set across the channel with our French brethren.
perhaps it was the first half of the book which bothered me most. I struggled to get into the plot and felt it dragged mainly because the plot resolution is very predictable and could be seen a mile off like a modern day Colossus of Rhodes and I wanted to get going with it. Yet conversely, it is that sense of inevitable tragedy that is also its greatest strength as when the plot does get going at a decent pace, it is suddenly full of lots of dramatic events and memorable characters.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….
If like me you enjoy the wonderfully whimsical sentence structure of a Dickens novel, there is an element of that in here but this being one of his shorter books at just 431 pages, he isn’t overtly ‘around the houses’ in getting to his point. Sill as Dickens’ classic sentence structure dictates, he is a firm believer in never having his characters utter one word when there are three to be had in its place.
So to the story itself, it is not just a contrast between peaceful London and vengeful Paris but also the mirroring and distinctions of their peoples. The terrors of the French Revolution are palatable and lead to many scenes which still retain their impact in today in a world that hs seen it all. It is this atmosphere that drives the story after a slower paced scene setting. Having built up to this explosive public outpouring and exploring the consequences thereof, it did become a much better read for me.
When I first read this I was of the mind that this was fairly average Dickens novel let down by with uneven pacing, which is still head and shoulders over above most authors of course. Having let it sink into my brain, I think I like it better on reflection It has a bit of everything, romance, war, humour, hatred, adversity, sacrifice and even a court room drama and is well worth a read. It is strange that his shorter books do seem more gruelling, perhaps I will soon treat you to a review if the frankly miserable, yet oddly arresting Hard Times.
It is a far, far better thing I do than I ever have done;…