I have read all the impeccably written reviews here on Amazon and there is no point in my writing my long and detailed thoughts on Tomalin's book as everyone has already said it, and expressed it beautifully.
I sat down and read this book over a weekend, totally and utterly engrossed in the life of a flawed genius. His treatment of his wife is, for me, a real stain on his character and yet despite this awful behaviour, I forgive Dickens and I am trying to work out why when I have been less generous with other writers and their peccadilloes. I think it is because deep down I feel he was never happy. He always seems to be running and running, desperately hoping that true happiness would be just around the next corner but then when he turned it, nothing was there. His genius drove him to the heights of joy and the depths of despair (a friend of mine has said that she has always thought he was bi-polar which is certainly food for thought), but there seemed to be very little calm or tranquility in his life. He drove himself relentlessly until he wore himself out.
This biography by Claire Tomalin is my personal Book of the Year. I cannot think that I will read another between now and 31 December that will make me change my mind. I was totally engrossed in it, was unable to put it down, found myself living and breathing with Dickens and his family and friends, overtaken with excitement at the reports of his readings and the audience reaction, angry with him because of his selfish behaviour, and also filled with sadness at his constant striving for the happiness that eluded him.
If you read no other biography this year, next year or the year after, please make it this one. Quite, quite wonderful.