Monday, 14 January 2013

What the Dickens have I been reading for the last six months?

To which the answer is:

This lot.

Which contains some Dickens, but not as much as I promised myself when I set myself the task of reading everything he wrote, back in July.

But that, with one honourable exception, (the photo on the right, thanks Amazon), that I've passed on to a neighbour,  is everything I've read since then.

It's a rather shamefully small list, which I blame almost entirely on Dombey and Son which I started reading in September, and only finished last week.  I'm not sure why, after all, what's not to love about a book which has on its first page, the following sentence:

...and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket...immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his consitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.

I suspect other people may have noticed that Dickens had a way with words, but if I hadn't been aware of it before, he had me at that point.

Hard Times, although I read it quicker, didn't grab me in the same way.  It's difficult, perhaps, to read these books as Dickens might have intended the reader to; we live, after all, in a somewhat different world.  But even though all the same social issues he raises still exist, and are maybe often worse, I just felt too distanced from his world really to be drawn into it.

The others were a bit of light relief really.  Georgette Heyer is my 10-tog-duvet, big mug of hot chocolate, author of comfort and love.  I turn to her whenever I don't know what else to read, or just when I want something to entertain, amuse and remind me that all is, at base, right with the world.  I didn't know either of these two of hers before and I thoroughly enjoyed them both, even if I can't really remember what either of them was about now.  High Society followed on from the two Georgettes (we're on first name terms) and fleshed out the world she wrote about for me, even if that wasn't really necessary because there are so  many historical snippets and period details in her books that there were times that this really just felt like a non-fiction version.

I wanted to enjoy the Jeffrey Eugenides, having loved Middlesex and the Virgin Suicides, but I just didn't.  I felt as though he was trying to say something terribly significant and failing.  But maybe the failure was mine.

I felt let down by The Night Circus too.  It was recommended by a friend, and it's the sort of thing I normally love, but in the end it felt like all style and no substance.  In the bonus extra author interview the publishers stuck in at the end Erin Morgenstern is asked whether she is a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.  She is, apparently.  The problem is her book just isn't as good.

You can't be let down by Margaret Attwood though (although to be honest, I struggled and failed with Alias Grace) and The Robber Bride was creepy and compelling and mysterious and racy all in one.  I realise I'm pretty late in coming to it, but I'm glad I did.

Next, something completely different.  I read a lot of those "Best books of 2012 " things last month and the one book that kept coming up was The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane.  It's a very not me sort of a book, but I asked Santa for it anyway and I started it this morning.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Addendum (18th February) - for completeness' sake, I also read The Pickwick Papers.   I realised when I found it under the bed about fifteen minutes ago.  I told you there was more Dickens.  I'm rather ashamed of having forgotten it though. Doesn't say good things about me, really, does it? I'm not sure we can blame one of Charles' finest, after all.  Jolly funny it was too.


  1. I feel about Georgette Heyer in exactly that way - the best comfort reading

  2. That opening sentence is beautiful. I'm sure I said last time you mentioned Dickens that I really ought to read more. I still haven't!

    Just finished Adriana Trigiani's The Shoemaker's Wife: not a hard book to read, just a very warm family story about migrating from Italy to New York.


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