Brendan's Reviews > Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
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's review
Dec 03, 09

bookshelves: 2009, audio, fiction, classics
Read in December, 2009

I only read one Dickens book before I started on the “1000 books to read before you die” project. And while A Tale of Two Cities is pretty great, in High School it was just a book to read. But now I’ve read both Great Expectations and Martin Chuzzlewit, and enjoyed both immensely.

Great Expectations tells the story of a young man, a blacksmith’s apprentice, who comes into the eponymous inheritance from an anonymous benefactor and proceeds to learn important lessons about friendship, life, and love. Delightful. Some additional thoughts:

* Now that I’ve read this, I’m going to have to return to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series to discover the army of Havishams again. Her creepy, disturbing, pitiful existence doesn’t come through very clearly if you, ahem, don’t get the references. And by the way, the table full of rotted food with creepy crawly bugs all over it … YUCK.
* Once again, I’m surprised by the humor sprinkled throughout the book. It’s not as overt as the humor in Chuzz, but Pip’s descriptions of his interactions and his understated way of saying he dislikes things work really well.
* Dickens often gets flack for his constructed stories, the way that nearly every character who appears will later be very important. One might call it an over-reliance on deus ex machina. But I’m reminded of formula detective shows like Bones or Castle. The biggest flaw in these shows is that for the mystery to seem both mysterious and satisfying, the suspect needs to be someone we don’t suspect while still being someone we’ve encountered before. So most of the time, the villain is the first or second witness they interview, someone beyond suspicion early on. Dickens uses this strategy, bringing back characters from early in the narrative to play important roles later.
* I’ve commented before on the fact that audiobooks created an association between the book and the place or activity where you read them. I read the last half of this book while painting my house over the weekend (long story). I’ll associate the big reveals in the last chapter with slopping Killz on my old-as-dirt window sills.

And Mark Smith does a great job with the book, just as he did with Captain’s Courageous. My only complaint (and it’s a pet peeve more than anything) is that he says domain with the stress on the first syllable, DO-main, rather than on the second syllable, do-MAIN. Otherwise, his characterization, diction, pacing, inflection, and emotion are all excellent. Particularly good in this reading were his voices for Joe and for Wemmick.
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