Monday, 5 March 2012

'A Tale of Two Cites' by Charles Dickens (1859)

Synopsis: After spending 18 years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter Lucie in England. There they meet two very different men. They meet Charles Darnay - an exiled French aristocrat - and then they meet the sleazy but brilliant English lawyer Sydney Carton. Both of these men fall in love with Lucie, and both end up being drawn against their will to Paris where it is still at the height of the Reign of Terror.

A Tale of Two Cities is one of only two historical novels that Dickens wrote and is set during the time of the French Revolution. If I had to describe this novel in three words then I would say that it's "a flawed masterpiece". A Tale of Two Cities is by no means perfect. I know that some readers think that Dickens's characters are '"flat" and will criticise them for displaying only one characteristic/attitude. I don't think this criticism really applies to David Copperfield but this criticism is more valid when it comes to this particular novel. Apart from Sydney Carton, and possibly Dr Manette, most of the characters in this book are rather two-dimensional. Another flaw that this book has is that the story does take a while to get going. It isn't the easiest book in the world to get into as the beginning section is quite boring and draggy. If I hadn't liked David Copperfield so much then I might have been tempted to give up on it. It isn't until Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton arrive onto the scene, about 60 pages in, that the story finally starts to pick up. From this point onwards the rest of the book is brilliant and is very hard to put down! It's dramatic, suspenseful, romantic and deeply moving.

Dickens's writing is brilliant and he really conveys the violence, terror, chaos and madness of the French Revolution. The imagery that he conjures up is absolutely fantastic. The book is balanced too, with Dickens showing the atrocities that were committed on both sides. There are no unnecessary characters in this novel either. Each one has a significant part to play in the events that take place. For example, early on in this book I automatically assumed that Dickens created Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross just for the sole purpose of bringing some comic relief into the story. However, both of these characters end up having vital parts to play. The best character in this novel though is undoubtedly Sydney Carton. Now he is an absolutely brilliant character! When he first appears he's a sleazy, drunken, self-loathing lawyer and hardly what you'd call sympathetic. OK, he does save Darnay's life at the trial but that's only out of impulse. However we can see that he's intelligent and observant - it's he who first notices the physical resemblance between him and Darnay - and his character development throughout the story is absolutely fantastic. He becomes an extremely likeable and sympathetic character. He's become one of my favourite literary characters of all time. His confession of his love for Lucie Manette and the final 100 pages or so of this novel are deeply moving. If you fail to be even the slightest bit moved by the final chapter of this book then you're probably dead inside!

'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I ever have done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.'

The best closing line to a book that I've ever read : )

Rating: 5/5 (even though it's flawed I really, really love this book)

1 comment:

Mizzie-Me said...

Thank you for this interesting review! I was thinking about reading this one now that I've finished Oliver Twist, and having read your review now I'll definitely do it!