Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bleak House

That's not a witty metaphor or a clever allusion.

It's a literary reference of the purest form.

I'm sitting on an east coast train, slightly teary tissue scrumpled up on the table, and I've just finished Bleak House.

When I started blogging about my reading I was doing so, and I said I was doing so, partly in the hope of improving my literary diet. Yet when I look over my book-related posts, that's not the impression I get.

The last book I read actually isn't that shameful. It was Kate Atkinson's latest Jackson Brodie: Started early, took my dog (or something like that). It's good, it made me think about loss, and children, and the loss of children. But I don't think it can be a good sign that one day I want to read all the series in a row because they're all starting to blur into one.

So, anyway, I bought Dickens. All of them. Sixteen books sitting on my shelf. A challenge.

And I started with Bleak House, all 880 pages of it. In 8 point print.

To be fair, this isn't the first Dickens I've read, I've enjoyed, years ago, both A Tale of Two Cities (no italics, I'm on my phone) and David Copperfield, but nonetheless I approached the weightiness of Bleak House with trepidation.

Was I really strong enough?

A revelation! It's brilliant. I know I should have known that, but somehow I'd forgotten. People aren't still reading this stuff a hundred years later just because a few dreary critics and English teachers say they should. They're reading it because they are carried along by the plot, because they see those they know in the characters, because it makes them laugh (another shameful revelation there - despite English A-level and literary (though not English) degree, I had no idea that Dickens was funny) and cry, and because it makes them look at the world afresh.

And I'm not just saying that because I'm a Chancery lawyer.

My plan was to intersperse Dickens with nonsense, as light relief, but in my suitcase, along with two books the titles of which I have already forgotten (although I packed them only hours ago), is Hard Times.

And I know which one I want to read.