[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Finally finished Claire Tomalin's biography of Charles Dickens. Which makes the book sound more of a slog than it was. It's just long. And dense. Very very dense with information and lots and lots of people and having got to the end I understand why there's so much detail about the players at the beginning. You need it. (Also, it would have helped if Georgina hadn't sometimes been Georgy, leading me to wonder if there were two.)

This is a 'warts and all' biography that pulls no punches about the less attractive aspects of its subject's behaviour. If you want to revere Dickens-the-man, don't read this book.

If on the other hand you want fascinating glimpses into his life, the people with whom he surrounded himself, and to get a taste for his astonishing popularity, go right ahead. But be aware there's rough with the smooth.

It's hard to encompass the experience of reading this book in a few lines, especially when it look so long for me to read. If I'd dedicated myself, it might only have been a week or so, but I note I started reading on the 9th December. So, nearly a month (I finished reading yesterday), albeit I didn't read the book every day. Also, as with much non-fiction, I found it necessary to read in short bursts, putting the book down for a while in order to accommodate what I'd already read. I can't read non-fic the same way I read fiction; it's more work.

Tomalin covers Dickens's life from birth to death, drawing on various sources including letters, and biographies by people who knew him. There's an extensive bibliography in the back of the book. I'm thinking it might be interesting to read Forster's biography, as he seems to have been very close to Dickens and there's possibly nobody who knew him better, except maybe the wife he deserted. Sadly, she hasn't left a record behind.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
After a few occasions when I felt disinclined to pick up Free Fall again, I finished it...or, at least, came to the point where it stops. It doesn't end, it isn't resolved, it just...stops. A flawed but interesting work, a work that convinces so powerfully that it's almost impossible not to equate the narrator, Sammy Mountjoy, with Golding himself. The narrator is that real. It is like stepping inside someone's head--not a very nice someone, at times, but a vital, living, thinking, breathing someone.

The point at which I became disenchanted with the book was the narrator's naivete about? inability (refusal?) to understand why Beatrice, a nice Catholic girl, doesn't want to have sex with him. I mean, come on? Even if the young Sammy was unaware of the consequences for her of sex outside marriage--and, worse, pregnancy outside marriage--surely the older Sammy would be wiser? And the young Sammy is clearly aware that pregnancy is an issue, for he comments on how Beatrice uses a symbol in her letters to indicate that she's got her period. The whole 'oh I can't understand it' comes across as either wilful or obtuse, and it's downright insulting, really. Then, having pretty much created their relationship out of his own fantasy, he discovers that the poor young woman can't possibly live up to it, and jilts her in the most cruel and cowardly fashion. But what else could I have done? he whines.

It's masterful writing, but not comfortable reading.

Well worth a read, though, if you're prepared for the sudden rushes of hate and the strong desire to throw the book (in the absence of its narrator) against the wall.

In other news, still reading the Tomalin biography of Dickens. He's behaving pretty badly to a woman, too. Two women, perhaps, depending on how Ellen Ternan feels about him pursuing her. The pictures have started falling out of my copy, which is damn annoying.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Still reading Something Wicked This Way Comes and the Tomalin biography of Dickens. Not much to report. Enjoying both books. Weather cold. Cats irritable.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I settled on the Dickens book, but there's a problem. It's a big handsome hardback and an absolute bugger to read in bed. Worse even than the mammoth doorstopper that was Jonathan Strange for hurting my hands. So it'll probably have to be read in places other than bed, which limits its opportunities. A big thick book, too. Going to take time to get through it.

Meanwhile, I might find me a nice gentle paperback to read in bed.

I tripped yet again over what seems to be a mistake in the book, where Dickens is supposedly writing to a former sweetheart yet refers to her in the third person. Cannot decide whether it's a stylistic thing in his letter or if the wrong name's been put in somehow. Eh. A fascinating book, anyway, and Tomalin clearly has affection for her subject while not being indifferent to his faults. It's intriguing also to trace some of Dickens' characters through descriptions of his family and friends.

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