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Sunday Salon: Wrestling with Dickens

We’re almost at the end of January and I realised today I hadn’t posted my answer to the Classics Club question for January. So that’s what today’s Sunday Salon is about — a reflection on recent experiences reading the classics. The question this month is:

 What is the best book you’ve read so far for The Classics Club — and why? Or, if you prefer, what is your least favorite read so far for the club, and why?

Before I get into answering that in detail, I have a confession. I’ve spent more time debating which books to include on my list; adding some, removing others, than I’ve actually read in the past few months. I set out to read 50 classics in 5 years and I’m still committed to doing that, but the progress is rather slower than I expected. No excuses other than too many other interesting novels caught my attention. So my options for a favourite are far too limited. But I do know which book has been my least favourite so far.

Pause for dramatic effect. It is. . … A Tale of Two Cities. Now I know it has a huge army of devotees and I know it is one of the biggest of all classics. But it’s just left me cold. I have tried, I really have, to read it. But I can’t get further than Chapter Five in Book One. I have started this book three times over a period of about 10 years and every single time I come to a halt at roughly the same point. It’s the point at which I’m so baffled about who the old man is and what he has to do with the people we’ve already encountered, that I decide I don’t really care and find something more interesting to read. I even tried a tutored read of this on LibraryThing towards the end of 2012 but to no avail.

I’m not naturally averse to Dickens’ work. Far from it. Great Expectations and Dombey and Son are both outstanding novels for me with their strong plots, psychological insight and challenging social comment to stimulate my thinking. I’m reading Little Dorrit at the moment and while it’s early days, I’m enjoying the experience. But A Tale of Two Cities seems in a different league. I must be missing something here. Can anyone enlighten me? Is it worth perservering or shall I ditch it forever??


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