Top critical review
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Good on characterisation poor on plot
on 9 November 2008
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
The major strengths of the novel are its characters and atmosphere. Every character is sharply drawn, we can visualise them in our mind's eye; Dickens has the ability to invest each of them with their own distinctive speech patterns. He can also create atmosphere whether it be describing the Marshalsea or the interior of Mrs Clennam's house. He is wonderful at creating a scene, of placing his characters in that scene and exploring the interaction of each.
The weakness of the novel is its plot. It never really gains momentum and there is always a sense of stasis, of things about to develop, but never doing so. We are presented with a series of tableaux and then, suddenly, something happens with no relation to anything that has gone before. Much is left unexplained; we are never told what Doyce's invention actually is, we are given no clue as to the nature of Merdle's financial dealings, his downfall just happens. The Dorrits suddenly become rich halfway through the novel. It dosen't convince.
A warning about this Penguin edition. For some inexplicable reason, American spellings are used throughout (eg 'honor' instead of 'honour'). I am not sure why this has been done and as certain Victorian spellings are also used, it makes even less sense. Some readers may find this annoying and would prefer to read a different edition.
A bonus of the Penguin edition, though, is the inclusion of the original illustrations.