Emma's Reviews > A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
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's review
Apr 25, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: classics

Christ on a bike - I’d forgotten how much concentration Dickens demands.  
Reading the first few chapters of this book was, frankly, a chore. I could not be less bothered about The Mail and the more Dickens banged on about that never ending carriage journey the more I daydreamed about the next book I was going to read once this torture was over. I’m glad I didn’t give up though because as soon as we hit France and the wine shop I was hooked, the pace started to pick up and there were mysteries and revelations galore.
There is so much in this book.  It would take me a month to provide anything other than a quick and dirty overview - which I can't really do either. Just think London/revolutionary France 1775, unrequited love, revenge, a doppelgänger and la guillotine.
I loved the gothic feel to the book, Jerry Crunchers body snatching, the remote settings, the macabre events, the parts of the book that gave me an uneasy feeling.  Right up my street.
I fell for Sidney Carton pretty much straight away too.  Bohemian, brilliant, indifferent. J'adore Sidney Carton. Although we never find out exactly what is up with Sid; I wonder what would have become of him and how I would have viewed him had he not become a hero. A few main characters were also a little too underdeveloped for me to connect with them.  Lucie Manette left me feeling ‘meh’.  She links nearly every character in the book and inspires love in seemingly every direction but whilst likable enough, there is no depth and certainly not my type of heroine.  But, I guess this was written in 1859 and Lucie is, I suppose, the type of heroine that would appeal to the readers of the time. 
Madame Defarge, the antithesis of Lucie, on the other hand is marvellous.  Clearly the villain of the piece, cold, consumed by revenge and not really even human by the end of the book but still, enthralling stuff. I think Dickens achieves a good balance with the historical telling of the revolution but perhaps was a little unfair to Madame Defarge, her motives and back story being revealed far too late in the book. 

Overall though, I got an awful lot out of a Tale of Two Cities; I'm still heartbroken over Sidney's final thoughts and his vision of a better Paris 'fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day's disfigurement'; The defarges, with their Macbeth and Lady Macbeth qualities 'infirm of purpose, give me the daggers' - possibly the greatest dickens characters I've ever read - were awful and captivating; The oppression of the peasants, their plight and the awfulness of the revolution carefully told with historical accuracy.  The only reason a Tale of Two Cities didn't get five stars is because of that bloody awful carriage ride. 
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02/05/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 56) (56 new)

Jean-marcel Hah, I must have blocked the carriage ride from my memory! Just no recollection at all.

Emma It's forgettable. There is a bloke called Tom and a bloke called Joe and they got on the Dover mail carriage, and the journey lasted two chapters.

I may be exaggerating - I've blocked it from my memory too now!

Darkpandora Actually, I like The Mail chapter and the way it describes the dangers on English roads at the time. It also conveys a gloomy athmosphere to the novel from the beginning, and the mysterious leitmotiv "Recalled to life" that comes at the end of the chapter gains much power from the narrative of the journey.

I must say it's more intereting on the second read, as the reader discovers that Dickens is already giving many hints to what is to happen next.

Emma Omg, you like the mail chapter? I agree with the gloomy atmosphere, which in fact, was what appealed to me about this book. That particular chapter however, lost me. I could not see any relevance to this journey. It was dull. I loved the book though, so it's great you saw something I didn't.

Darkpandora Hehhehe. It's just so well written in the first place that it is enough for me to enjoy it. I have to admit that I felt a little lost the first time I read it because I did not know where the journey was taking me to, but the words were so beautifully combined that it made it up for it. (adding to the difficulty, English is not my mother tongue)

Another thing about that chapter is that the story starts with a journey to France, it ends with a journey back from France and all journey episodes are important in the novel. It's part of the rythm of the plot almost. Just like various trial episodes are part of it too. Without that chapter, the novel may have felt unbalanced it seems to me.

Emma Well put! I might have to read this again soon to try and appreciate the carriage journey a little more!

Darkpandora I hope you will! ;)

Scott Marley The beginning did make it hard to keep the mind from thinking about if the Chicago Bulls won or not. I'll agree that after that it only gets better.

Emma I find Dickens hard going at times, but I love him really. This is a fabulous book.

Stellasthoughts "I daydreamed about the next book I was going to read once this torture was over" - ha! Felt exactly the same! But boy oh boy, good things come to those who wait. Lucky are we to have read and experienced this book!

Jason This is a great review!

message 12: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Thank you Jason, I appreciate you saying that.

Jason Koivu This is a great review!

message 14: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Thank you Jason, I appreciate you saying that. Oh, hang on.....

Actually, this is going to be awfully confusing having two Jasons in my news feed. Can one of you change your name please?

Jason Koivu You may call me, Don Francisco Rodrigo DelaCruz, if that helps.

message 16: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan White I really enjoyed the Mail chapter as well. It's amazing how vivedly Dickens can describe a scene and make you feel like you're there. Give the mail chapter another chance! :)

Patrice Thanks for telling me the book gets better. It gives me hope to carry on!

ThisIsMe I'm in the mail scene now and having difficulty pushing through, but you review gives me hope to push through it! Thank you.

message 19: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Great! You should carry on! It's a rewarding book. It's also good to hear I am not the only one that struggled with The Mail chapter!

Patrice I just finished the storming of the Bastille. I'm loving it!

message 21: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Excellent! Thrilling isn't it?

Patrice The thing is, I keep hearing Les Mis in my mind.
"Do you hear the people sing...we won't be slaves again!"
A good follow up read would be Les Mis.

message 23: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Melnyk Christ on a bike, indeed! It's VERY hard to listen to it.. I think I'm going to have to actually read it in book form.

Patrice Listen and read at the same time!

message 25: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma I’d be in danger of nodding off if I listened to Dickens on audio.

message 26: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Melnyk I haven't fallen asleep (yet) but I'm also not able to pay close enough attention. I'm 20% in and I'm lost... lol

Patrice Nothing wrong with an occasional nap. I took several.

Shali Thanks for the review- I don't think I would have continued if I didn't hear someone say this. I will see it through...

message 29: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Thanks Shali, I’m glad my review encouraged you to keep reading. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book!

Darkpandora Emma wrote: "I’d be in danger of nodding off if I listened to Dickens on audio."

I actually have it on audio. What I like to do is listen at the same time as I read, and it is not soporific! ;)

message 31: by Sally (new) - added it

Sally On mobile I can't simply "like" your review but I do. I have about 50 pages until the end and I'm intrigued, befuddled, and mollified by this book. Great review.

message 32: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Thanks Sally! The ending is fantastic, I can't think what has and hasn't happened 50 pages before the end but i suspect I was blubbing by this point. The ending stayed with me for some time.

Leann Hastings Totally agree. Book 1 was a bore! Book 2 got way better. It is so intense. Character appearing and reappearing. A puzzle of a book

Nikhat Hetavkar I was gonna drop the book ten pages into it. But your review helped me carry on and I'm glad I did. Great review, thanks!

message 35: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Hi Nik, that's great that you decided to carry on and thanks very much! Dickens isn't for everyone, and as I said in my review I struggled to get through the first few chapters, but this book is so rewarding if you stick with it. It killed me. Oh and thanks for friend request!

message 36: by Denise (new) - added it

Denise Tyson A. Mensah I had to re-read the first few chapters. However, I'm going to carry on. Thanks to you, Emma :)

message 37: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Great, I'm glad my review helped! Good luck with the rest of the book.

Mohab Hariry This is exactly what i felt about the book .. I am also glad i didn't give up on it in the beginning

message 39: by Troy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Troy Yup. I just wrote a review and didn't need to. I totally agree. Lucie, meh. Sidney and Mme. Defarge, yes.

Silvia I couldn't agree more with your first paragraph. Even as an avid reader of classic novels, I struggled during the first few chapters. And boy, am I glad I persevered. I am on page 212 and I am absolutely mesmerized by this novel. Wonderful.

message 41: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Excellent (and fun) review - thank you. I read this novel in high school (1966) and struggled with it. I'm glad I decided to have another go at it, 48 years later, this time on unabridged audiobook. Wow! what a difference! The reader does an amazing job with the voices of dozens of actors and their varied accents, including the "furniture characters" in The Mail chapter. The first chapter is difficult. But how else would you set the stage (no pun intended) for Jarvis Lorry, the mysterious passenger (Darnay), and the Gothic, moody tone of the rest of the novel? Anyway, I think our friend Mr. Carton was probably bi-polar. To me, he was a self-absorbed cypher as if he'd been dropped into the story. But what he lacked in back-story he made up for in backbone. In my opinion, Carton, Dr. Manette and Madame Defarge (what a woman!) are the three most compelling characters in the story, indeed in all of 19th Century literature, and will live on, immortal as long as readers like us cherish and talk about them.

Melissa Overson I guess he accurately conveyed to the reader how bloody awful the carriage ride was. LOL

message 43: by Eman (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eman Such a great review! Couldn't agree more.

Sarah Furley So glad I read your review, was about to give up after carriage journey but pleased I decided to carry on.

message 45: by Tiffiny (last edited May 13, 2015 06:50PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tiffiny I was reading the beginning of this novel last night and I told my co-worker that it was harder than other Charles Dickens books that I have read before. I shall press on.

Patrice I slogged through the whole book, very unhappily, but the pay off was at the end, when the feisty Englishwoman (I forget her name) fights the French woman, Priceless!

Gena Myrtle I am glad I read your review because I'm still in the chapter of The Shoemaker and I fall asleep every time. I almost gave up but since you said the pace picks up eventually, then I'd continue reading :)

message 48: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill I agree this takes concentration, but I love the prose and the atmosphere it conveys transports the reader to another time.

Daphne CCHS Ya the first couple of chapters were very boring, and not to mention if you don’t have background information about the mail and the Dover you have no idea what is going on. It was very confusing and i was concerned that i would have no idea what was going on through the rest of the book either. Then it was a relief to find that i understood what was going on when they started introducing the main characters and where the main setting was for this novel. Also one of the main reasons why i had chosen this novel was because it was set in the period of the French Revolution. That uneasy feeling really made the book what it was, like that time when there was that body dragging under the carriage, and the Marquis did not care. Now for Sydney Carton, i agree with you he was underdeveloped and that was odd because he became the main hero. Lucie was the perfect wife, daughter and mother. She (like you said) did bring everyone together, and it is interesting that you mention the time period and what the audience of that time would be looking for in woman hero. That is something you must consider while reading this novel. At first with Madame Defarge you believe she is just another regular person, she doesn't trust others which could be understood because of the revolution. Then as we get farther and farther into the novel she is malicious, and her character is further developed in that manner. Dickens also enhances Madame Defarge's character with the introduction of The Vengeance (a close friend of hers). In the end i think Madame Defarge’s death foreshadowed and alluded to the end of the novel that justice was conquered. I was also heartbroken with Sydney’s decision to die instead of Charles, although that made everyone like him even more. One more thing, the Defarge’s did have Macbeth and Lady Macbeth qualities although they did not ever get to the point where guilt took their lives. They just (while they were alive) had the same villain characteristics. You have some interesting ideas about this novel, and i am glad that i could share some of my ideas with you as well.

message 50: by Em (new) - rated it 5 stars

Em Thanks for the helpful review, Emma! I have that book on my shelf but have been really cautious about picking it up. My mom started reading it and then frogged it because she said it was super boring. I assume sh stopped at the mail chapter??? Anyway i really want to read it now... you helped me clarify.

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