Archive for November, 2010

‘Bleak House’ by Charles Dickens

November 30, 2010

Finally I have finished this 850-page novel, which isn’t a page-turner. Among the Dickens novels I have read up to date it was the most literary or poetic one.

I am not entirely sure why I read his novels. On the one hand, their style is somewhat old-fashioned and they are rather slow-moving. But on the other hand they tell nice stories, with morals I like, with humor (if of a slightly antiquated kind), happy endings (which I have to admit I enjoy) and even, occasionally, suspense. One might of course read them for educational purposes: to learn, say, what the ‘Pickwickian’ sense of a word is, or who Uriah Heep is (not the rock band; you can look him up in Wikipedia). But my primary purposes are more hedonistic (fun-oriented) than that. Although Dickens’s novels tend to tire me a bit, I do read them again and again — with long periods of faster-paced reading matter intervening. Dickens novels are, for me, a slow, toned-down kind of fun, which needs some effort from a modern reader, but which also makes him or her feel good afterwards.

One of the many protagonists of Bleak House, Esther Summerson, is a bit too good, too moral, to be true. Her self-denial borders on arrogance. Out of purest altruism she preempts other people’s choices, hiding her own true emotions so they won’t have to make what Ester conceives as sacrifices for her sake, thus putting obstacles in their and her own path to happiness. (Sorry, this is a bit abstract, but I don’t remember the concrete details. Read the book if you want to know them.) Self-denial holds some allure for me (certainly the world could use more of it), but it does have its pitfalls: you are responsible for your own happiness, too; and apparently extensive altruism will almost inevitably be pervaded by unacknowledged self-righteousness: “Look at me being holier than thou!”


‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ by Terry Pratchett

November 30, 2010

This is Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel ‘for younger readers’ — although I fail to see any salient differences between these and his novels for adult readers. (Probably there are differences, but they haven’t yet registered with me.) For example, the narrative includes a very young pregnant girl’s being beaten up by her father so hard that she loses her baby (although the book doesn’t make us watch this ‘live’). Is that child stuff?

It’s another satirical fantasy novel with the teenage witch Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle. I liked it well, as I do Pratchett’s other novels, usually. I just didn’t like the preceding one so much, Wintersmith; don’t know why anymore, it seemed a little boring or so.

I must admit I was a little on the lookout for signs of Pratchett’s Alzheimer’s. Happily, though, I didn’t notice any. May it keep that way!