on 11 May 2014
I struggled with the first third of this novel but I was determined to read at least one Dickens through to the end. I cannot pretend that it was my most enjoyable read but I am glad that I competed it and would recommend it.
Most of it is set in the years preceding the French Revolution and the most dramatic and engaging parts of the story occurring during the height of those events; so the historical setting was of interest and persuaded me that this was the novel to tackle.
It is of course, great writing, full of witty observations, characterisations and wry humour. There are some stand out passages and quotes that made it worth the effort. But for me, Dickens is always going to be, a bit of an effort. I really can't put my finger on it. It isn't that I struggle with the language of the 19th century novel but really until the last quarter of the book, I felt like an observer, never wholly involved in the plight of the protagonists. It's all very clever stuff but to me, often feels self indulgent, a few too many overly convoluted sentences. I know a lot of confirmed fans will disagree strongly with this statement but it is my honest impression. If you have avoided Dickens and are now considering making a start with A Tale of Two Cities, do persevere if you find it a bit of a slog at first, it is worth it. But don't beat yourself up if you don't manage to stay the course either. Took me the best part of 40 years to manage it and I read Milton for fun!
A note on this Kindle copy: no obvious typos or formatting issues to report. A very good copy, plus it's free so what do you have to lose?
on 27 November 2013
Wonderful novels they are, but works like "Little Dorrit", "The old curiosity shop", "Dombey and Son" etc tend to be lengthy reads. In "A tale of two cities", Dickens weaves an intricate, fascinating and (occasionally) amusing tale, with brevity and deftness. London is at once delightful and grim, France is a playground for the self-seeking and (sometimes) vicious "aristos" and a hell on earth for the poor - revolution brews and its echoes are felt in London. A justifiable uprising turns sour and the human impulses to good and bad are clearly revealed.
I am delighted to revisit this splendid novel via the "magic" of Kindle.
on 13 February 2012
It takes a while to get going, but when I'd finished reading I could say this was deservedly a classic. Dickens has a disdainful comic voice to his writing, which can be irritating at times, but then very apt at others. He recreates the world of the French revolution memorably, and gets you thinking about society and the currents which run through it. His characters all come alive in their own right so that you have a clear sense of them - even the minor ones - and it is enjoyable to see how their paths all entwine and come together for the conclusion. And the last pages were some of the best I have ever read in fiction.
You are browsing through the Kindle Store, trying to choose between Lee Childs, Katie Fforde, Hilary Mantell, John Le Carre, when up pops A Tale of Two Cities. Is it worth spending time with Dickens' tale of London and Paris set at the time of the French Revolution?
I have to say emphatically, "Yes". It's a classic of English literature which fully deserves its status. Thriller, romance, historical novel, spy story, tale of redemption, this superlative narrative delivers them all.
The core story is that of Dr Manette, rescued from a pre-revolutionary prison, and Charles Darnay, a Frenchman teaching his native language in England, also reprieved, from trumped up espionage charges, at the start of the book. The happy lives they build around Lucie, Manette's daughter are endangered when Darnay returns to Paris in the throes of revolution to repay a debt of honour. Around them, a typically Dickensian supporting cast including lawyers, bankers, grave robbers, embittered revolutionaries, dissolute aristocrats and saturnine road menders all play their parts.
One of the chief joys of the book is simply being in the presence of a master story teller brilliantly demonstrating his art and craft. It is beautifully structured, starting almost with an overture as Dickens sets out two of his major themes, of personal secrecy and of revolution, with, firstly, an almost heartbreaking passage in which he suggests that one of the great tragedies of death is that individuals will never truly understand what is in each other's hearts, and secondly with the breaking of a wine barrel at a bar prophesying the blood of the revolution which is to come. Thereafter the construction is fabulous, as Dickens skilfully sets the threads of his story twisting around each other, intertwining, disappearing from view, and reappearing when least expected, with seemingly minor events from one part of the story taking on major significance later in the novel. Finally, once the story has reached its conclusion, and the loose ends tied up, there is a brilliant device which succinctly tells of what happened afterwards.
The thriller element comes to the fore as the book gradually builds up pace before racing to an unbearably tense conclusion. The book's genesis as a newspaper serialisational so racks up the tension as one can almost hear the East Enders drumbeats when Dickens ends a section or chapter with a cliffhanger or shocking revelation.
As a historical novel, a Tale of Two Cities is quite stunningly violent. The portrayal of the storming of the Bastille and of the post-revolutionary Terror are not coy in their blood drenched description of events and in their generation of a genuine sense of horror at uncontrolled mob rule. However, the author doesn't give us a two dimensional picture of a blanket evil. He understands and frequently sympathises with the revolutionaries, showing them as individuals with credible desires and motivations. Dickens empathises with both the causes of the revolution and with its victims.
At times the writing style, to this modern eye, took some concentration to be able to follow the sometimes long and convoluted sentences, but it is an effort which it is well, well worth making for the repayment made by this rip-roaring adventure story.
So, this is a great work of literarture, a wonderfully crafted story, an insightful account of the humanity behind great events, and that would be more than enough, but then Dickens caps it all off by bookending a Tale of Two Cities with two of the most famous lines in English literature. "It was the best of times.....", "It is a far far better thing".
Very very highly recommended.
on 29 January 2012
A Tale of Two Cities is an epic novel about one of the great events in human history; the French Revolution. Although the action switches back and forwards in time it is essentially the story of a refugee family-the Manettes-their exile in England and the emotional bonds that they form. Dickens depicts events in the revolution through brilliantly memorable characters and the various roles that they play in the unfolding events: the political prisoner Dr Manette and his daughter; the wine seller turned revolutionary Monsieur Defarge; the conscience-stricken aristocrat Charles Darnay and his tyrannical ancien regime uncle and the dissolute English lawyer Sydney Carton. It is the intertwining of the characters' lives and destinies that make this such an interesting novel.
Dickens' novel has a timeless quality. One of the defining traits of the city of London is that it has provided a home to political exiles and refugees down through the centuries. The theme of exiles making their home in the city such as the French that Dickens depicts living in Soho reoccurs over and over again right up to the present day. Dickens also has an acute sense of the awfulness of revolutionary justice through the unyielding and pitiless treatment of the aristocratic but virtuous Charles Darnay: even the revolutionary hero Dr Manette cannot save him.
There are so many memorable episodes in the book: the child trampled by the aristocrat's horses, the storming on the Bastille, Sydney Carton's final heroics etc. that for a fairly long book proceedings never drag. Although the French people are shown to be labouring under terrible injustice Dickens is also honest about the afflictions affecting English society as well. A great historical novel.
This is one of Dickens' most satisfying novels. Although there is the usual scaffolding of coincidence holding things up, it's well buried, and the narrative feels tight and structured, the humorous and macabre early scenes of the Cruncher family being the only indulgence.
From the famous opening line to the even more famous close, the writing is solid and assured. There are magnificent passages of description, such as Mr Lorry's feverish dream and the French citizens scrabbling for wine from a broken cask, an overt and beautifully apt metaphor for the blood that will run in the streets later.
There is some sentimentality in the depiction of Dr Manette's fragile mental health, and his daughter's angelic nature is a stretch; but these are minor cavils. Whilst there is some meat on the bones of Charles Darnay, and Madame Defarge is as formidable as a Bond villain, it is the dissolute Sydney Carton who is the star of the book: his keen awareness of his own failure in life is affecting and compelling.
As the story grinds to its appalling and redemptive conclusion, it carries the reader along like a doomed prisoner in a tumbril heading to the guillotine, with the inevitability of Shakespearean tragedy. Dickens' horror at the Revolution's bloodshed is balanced by his righteous fury at the universal injustice that brought it about, leading to a novel that is nigh on perfect in its (if you will) execution...
on 21 December 2011
If you only read one Dickens novel, let it be this one.
It's one of the shorter, easier novels if you feel daunted stepping into the vastness of his back catalogue. I enjoy all of his work but this is probably my favourite, purely on a historical basis. It is not as comedic as some of his other writing, but more descriptive and historical.
It gives you a good insight into the period as well as any history text book could.
It also has the second best opening text I think I have ever read. You should download it for free just to read that alone.
on 20 April 2014
This is one of Dickens' most accessible novels. An exciting adventure story with varied believable characters. There is pathos and tragedy alongside comedy, a deeply flawed hero and Dickens' trademark beautiful heroine. Read it through once and you won't forget it. No wonder it has been dramatised for cinema, television and radio so many times ! Some of Dickens novels can be seen as a heavy read, but this one will get you if you give it a chance and, at this price, what can you lose ?
on 12 April 2016
Eat your heart out, modern detective novelists and Nordic noir creators. Dickens wrote this suspense laden book many decades ago and it could have been successfully published this year. Set at the time of the French Revolution, the book portrays all the horrors of the guillotine and the river of blood which flowed through Paris as the abused and sore tested population sought their vengeance against the aristocracy. The tension grows skilfully, though the solution to the likely death of the hero is trailed a little too obviously. Maybe his first readers had not read so many "whodunnits" as are now available.
It goes without saying that Dickens's use of language is delightful, though one must be patient as his usage is so different from modern day English. Themes from the Christian bible - and quotes from that book- are everywhere. The core message is that "Greater love hath no man than that a man lay down his life for his friend". Resurrection is referred to time and again.
Little details can irritate, such as how easily everyone except the aristocratic hero entered France when he had such difficulty.
Nevertheless, this is a timeless novel of great quality and will be enjoyed by any keen reader of literature.