17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Anyone who hasn't read this before is in for a treat, and at nearly a 1000 pages long it is certainly a book to get your teeth into. To say it is complex is an understatement, and the size of the cast of characters can seem formidable, but I guarantee that you will find scenes in this book which will stay with you forever. Dickens' writing is at times pure poetry. It's hard to list all of the great descriptions he does here but the ones that, for me, stood out are London under fog, and at midnight, the snow-swept countryside, anything to do with the neighbourhood around Krook's downbeat shop, and summer's evenings in Lincolnshire. What was most memorable though was the build-up to the legendary spontaneous combustion scene. It's impossible not to feel unnerved as the smell of burning flesh gradually seeps through the building late at night. This is a scene worthy of Hitchcock at his very best.
And the characters! Where do you start? Mr Tulkinghorn, the lawyer so shifty and slimy that you can almost hear him slithering when he walks, Mr Guppy the chancer, the vile Smallweed family, the strong but haunted Lady Dedlock, the terminally selfish Harold Stimpole, ready to excuse all his sponging off his friends on the grounds that he's so innocent of life he can't be held responsible for his actions, the iexhaustible do-gooder Mrs Jellaby, so busy being bountiful to strangers that she chronically neglects her own family, the young man Richard Carstone who becomes obsessed with the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the beer-drinking housewives witnessing all that happens at Krook's shop, and the great Inspector Bucket, with his collection of handcuffs ready to snap on at a moment's notice. Bucket is like a Victorian version of Detective Columbo, even down to Columbo's famous trick of pausing at the door for one final word, his knack for buttering up his witnesses with an affable exterior, and frequent references to an unseen wife!
This is a hugely satisfying read. There isn't a scene in the whole 1000 pages that Dickens doesn't make fully-rounded and colourful. We know the names of all Miss Flite's birds, the painting on the ceiling of Mr Tulkinghorn's office, the layout of Bleak House itself, and what Inspector Bucket has for breakfast just before setting off for a climatic showdown (two mutton chops as it happens). It's also a satirical swipe at the law courts. Whole hordes of characters are born, get married and die, as the interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce grinds on. This must surely be contender for one of the greatest English novels ever written, and if it isn't then there is truly no justice to be had!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2008
Read by two outstanding performers, this version has everything you could expect of probably Dickens greatest novel. You read Dickens for the characters and their presentation is perfect. Ignore the too good Esther, she isn't that overblown, just get absorbed in the language and the multitude of diverse humanity; Bucket, George, Lady Dedlock etc. Brilliant, but so many Naxos titles seem to be. A good reader is essential and they seem to find them often.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2001
The Court of Chancery takes the full brunt of Dickens' sharply comic wit as it grinds up human fodder to feed itself. This is still as relevant (maybe more so) today in our obscenely litigious society with its compensation claims and pre-nuptial contracts which make rich pickings for legal vultures. Dickens' characters in Bleak House are, even by his standards, the most memorable, the good the bad and the ugly - each has a significant and symbolic role to play in the absorbing drama and there is a gorgeous mix of pathos and melodrama, humour and despair. Don't be put off by the length of the volume - it never flags and ends too soon. Utterly mesmerising and along with Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend the best of Dicken' darker (final) period.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2008
The title of this novel intrigued me. It was the second Dickens novel that I read, the first being Great Expectations. This one is a good deal darker. Dickens always was an advocate for the poor and downtrodden but in this novel he takes on all of society's evils: The legal system and social stratification are the most obvious.
There is a veritable parade of wicked characters. The one who drove me nuts was Harold Skimpole. Dickens never says he's a parasite but it is obvious that he is so. It has been suggested that the character's mannerisms and speech were modeled after Dickens' friend Leigh Hunt. If so, it seems doubtful he was trying to say his friend was a leech.
There is a mystery running through this novel but I won't spoil it by telling about it.
The book contains the original illustrations by Phiz: They match the tone of the book. Many of them are dark and shadowy.
One of the complaints that have been made against Dickens is his good characters are 'too good'. I find I miss truly good characters in modern works. Bleak House would be unbearable were it not for the goodness of Mr. Jarndyce and Esther Summerson.
The Collector's Library edition is a beautiful one. Most of the books in the series can fit in your pocket but not this one! It is two and a half inches thick. Still it's a nice portable size and beautifully crafted with a sewn binding, cloth cover, gold page edging and ribbon marker. The blue white paper is pleasing and the binding surprisingly tight for its thickness. It does not loosen with use. This is a book that will last a very long time. Appropriate for a great classic.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2013
I downloaded this for a book group and would not otherwise have read it. Many people think it's wonderful ...I was delighted and interested to read Esther’s chapters but was frustrated whenever it went back to the present tense (which I dislike anyway) and the millions of characters with seriously silly names. A friend said that I’d really start enjoying it about 80% through and she was so right. At that point only the relevant people were left and the story came together. “Needs editing,” I was screaming; and if I had more moral fibre maybe I should go through it, for my own satisfaction, with a red pen.
But then there’s the words. There are some glorious paragraphs and I wish I’d noted them. I love it when he gives lists and lists of related things.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2013
Quite simply the best novel I have ever read. From the first page, with its astonishing evocation of a fog-bound London -- "Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners" -- Bleak House draws you into a world and doesn't let you go.
"I couldn't put it down" is an over-used expression, but the first time I read Bleak House, when I got to the famous chase sequence, I truly couldn't, so much so that I read it all night and into the morning. My arms ached from holding the book, my eyes hurt, I was exhausted and yet I still could not put it down. In the dark reaches of the night the room got cold and I huddled under the blanket, but I read on. I had a full day of work ahead of me the next day, but I read on. Eventually I noticed it had grown light outside. 6am. I read on. I finally stopped at 8am because I had to get up and go to work. I read for ten hours solid and didn't sleep a wink, and I would have gone on if I could. That is how good Bleak House is.
Modern readers are put off by Bleak House`s length, and its Victorian setting. Don't be: this is no dusty, drawn out morality tale. Bleak House has been called the first detective novel in English, and there is a mystery to be solved, a blackmail attempt, avaricious lawyers, a thoroughly nasty old man who spontaneously combusts -- whether because of his drinking or his wickedness is never entirely clear, though Dickens was at pains to point out that spontaneous combustion is a genuine, documented phenomenon.
There are a welter of amateur detectives, most of them with less than admirable motives, who cause a great deal of trouble with their investigations, before the professional, Inspector Bucket, the first great English detective, makes his late but decisive entrance.
There are a host of the comic characters for whom Dickens is justly renowned, of whom the best is Mrs Guppy, who succeeds in completely stealing the show in a scene towards the end of the book which may be the funniest in Dickens' entire oeuvre, when, outraged that anyone should resist her son's amorous advances, she orders the object of his affections out of her own house.
Most of all, though, there are the women. There are many critics who say that Dickens couldn't write realistic women, only two-dimensional saints or harlots. They clearly haven't read Bleak House.
The cricticism may have been just of the younger Dickens, but here he is at the height of his powers, and there few female characters in literature as beautifully drawn as Lady Dedlock, with her foibles, her weaknesses, the mistakes she has made in her life -- to say more would be a spoiler -- who yet remains a deeply sympathetic character.
Then there is the narrator of much of the book, Esther Summerson. Some have seen in her, perhaps, a little of Dickens' tendency to idealise his heroines. But there is another side to her, and the manner in which he adopts the voice of a once beautiful woman aware that her looks have been ravaged by smallpox, her horror at facing the world with her scarred face, and the way in which it changes her, and comes to colour her view of the world, is masterful, and the product of a deeper empathy for his female characters than Dickens is usually credited with.
The other trait for which Dickens is known is his righteous exposure of social injustice, and it is here, but in a more sophisticated form than the sermonising of his earlier works. Here he keeps his anger in check: the mature Dickens knows the effectiveness of the accretion of cold detail, and trusts in his immense descriptive powers. Only once does he let the mask slip, at the death of Jo the crossing sweeper. His anguished direct appeal to Queen Victoria and the British Establishment from the pages of the novel could have been embarrassing in the hands of a less skilled writer, but Dickens pulls it off: it is as if he can hold back his anger no longer.
Technically, Bleak House is startlingly modern, alternating between Esther's first person past narrative, and a third person narrative using the vivid present tense, without any artificial explanation for the shifts such as his contemporaries would have used, like a diary or letters. The third person sections employ that trademark of Dickens, not the omniscient narrator, but the narrator who refuses to do any more than describe the visible and tangible, what the characters do and say, how they move, where their eyes linger a moment too long. This is a technical tour de force, the work of a writer who can make us understand what his characters are thinking without telling us, just by showing us how they act and react.
There is so much more to Bleak House: the great vicious joke of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the greatest satire of lawyers in literature; the perfectly observed snobbery of the upper-class Dedlocks and the social climbers and hangers-on who surround; them the evocation of scene after scene in London -- the slap bang dinner, the court of chancery, the worst slums in the city. This is a novel that has so many fully developed characters it can at times seem more like a world than a book.
For me it is the masterpiece, the novel against which all others are measured. Incomparable.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2012
Sometimes it seems Dickens is rather maligned and neglected, long books, grotesques and caricature like characters that bear no resemblance to reality are what many people might think when they see a Dickens title. Although there are a few notable grotesques in Bleak House all the centrally characters are quite normal and very realistic. They are not always easy to like as I found the narrator Ester much more superior in attitude and much vainer of her looks than the image she tries to project through her narrative
On the subject of narrative, his book has a distinctive split narration, a lot of the story is told through the eyes of Ester Summerson (first appearance in chapter 3) and a 3rd person narrator. I often found the 3rd person narrations to be too rich in description and occasional hard work, certainly in comparison to the easy flow of Ester's narrative this makes the first 2 chapters hard work, but it is possible to get through it and start enjoying the story. (I wonder if I might try re-reading, just reading Ester's narrative as all events ultimately hinge on her it might be interesting to try)
I would also add that the story itself reads like an accelerating car, the further you go, the faster and more intense the events unfold, and the harder it becomes to put it down.
I would defiantly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story, although I would advise reading the preface and introduction as they are full of spoilers (leave these to after you have finished reading)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2001
Don't be put off by the size of this novel as it's probably the most intriguing and rewarding book you will have read in a long time. Dickens weaves a fantastic and exciting plot through the many different characters he takes from every section of society. He takes the reader on a journey of discovery down the dark alleys of London slums and through the morally corrupt Court of Chancery, discovering on the way some unexpected and devastating connections with the rural aristocracy. Dickens' humour is as strong as ever, but his social message is crucial in this novel and is one that is as relevant now as it was under the reign of Queen Victoria. Not one to miss out on...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2000
From the foggy opening through the intricately woven plot, to the final pages, this is an utterly wonderful masterpiece. I love Dickens anyway (with the exception of the irritating Little Dorrit), but this is a must for everyone. If you were forced to read it at school and hated it as a result, please try again!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2009
Although I really really like reading Dickens novels, I always have to mentally prepare myself to start the really thick books as they seem a bit daunting! I was bought Bleak House along with a few other novels, and I left it until last, and then felt that I ought to read it. After the first few pages, I wished I had read it first! The changes of narration keep the pace moving, the characters are amusing, the sad bits are wonderfully tear-jerking. It is one of my favourite books, and I completely reccomend it (and am really glad that I was given it)!!! :-)