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Dickens, you cunning ferdydurking ol’ chap. I’ll be honest, I had you down as some dead dude that was part ‘Muppets Christmas Carol’ and part ‘Oliver! The Musical’, and then you sneak up behind me with a sucker-punch like this (and yes, I finally did finish the book I took three months to read).
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”. Words that are so much part of popular culture that I still can’t help but cringe a little bit at the outrageous levels of twee. This isn’t a book that I would even have thought about picking up if I hadn’t stumbled across the (not amazingly successful) musical version, and been intrigued. Who was this Sydney dude? What city were we actually in? And why is everyone so obsessed with knitting?
In the interest of absolute honesty, I do feel obliged to warn you that Tale of Two Cities is long, and at times unbelievably dense. I would say that I have a fairly strong grasp on the English language, and there were still passages that I had to read over and over again to actually comprehend what was being said. There are probably times that you’ll feel like giving up, but I beg you to Just. Keep. Going. Hidden in that old timey speak and confusing criss-crossing of countries and names is a story that will make your heart bleed and turn your world upside down, just a little bit.
Set primarily on the cusp of, and immediately after, the Bastille Day revolution in France, A Tale of Two Cities follows French nobleman Charles Darnay and the people he gathers around him as they are drawn inexorably into the struggles.
The pictures Dickens paints of the situation in France at the beginning of the novel is grim, and at the same time, painfully familiar. It’s all too easy to see our current age of fast fashion and consumerism reflected in the imbalance between the French nobility, and the peasants starving to death in the streets a few feet away. Given everything that I’ve been learning on my personal sustainability journey, I was one good riot away from raising a pitchfork myself after the first few chapters. Dickens is wilier than that though, and by the end of Two Cities you have no idea which way is up, or who’s in the right. I read the last few chapters in a sobbing heap, devastated by the injustice and cruelty of the world (but as soon as I recover, I think I’m going to have to read it again)
TL;DR Just read this book.
For the newcomers to my Reading Roundups, I’ve been using my audible credit to slowly work my way through these hot new books by Ben Aaronovitch! Broken Homes sees Leslie and Policeman-slash-magic-apprentice Peter Grant go undercover in a strange housing estate to try and find a connection between a number of apparently unrelated deaths. It picks up pretty much where Whispers Underground left off, and follows the standard police procedural format (with a healthy dose of magic thrown in). While none of the books in this series have delighted me as much as the original Rivers of London, Broken Homes does come to the party with an incredibly strong ending that makes it impossible not to run straight to the next book in the series. And speaking of…
Two months without a roundup apparently means two more books in the Rivers of London Series! After the events of Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer, Peter Grant is taken out of London and into what someone from my homeland would call the ‘whopwhops’ to investigate two missing children. The case becomes even more curious when the missing girls return, but something isn’t quite right…
While I enjoyed meeting more characters (and a few new Rivers), I missed the hyper-localised writing of ‘Peter in London’, so Foxglove Summer probably won’t be making my top ten list this year. As always though, there was superb narration in the audible recording and I definitely passed a few enjoyable tram rides following the twists and turns of the slightly-more-rural mystery.
What’s the best thing to dive into after finishing a dense, old-fashioned piece of literature? Another one, of course!
Dracula is the choice for this month’s book club, and after discovering that there’s an audio version narrated by Tim Curry & Alan Cummings (among others), it also seemed to be the obvious choice for this month’s Audible credit. For those who struggle with reading the classics, I seriously can’t recommend a good audio reading enough! While some moments might be lost when you can’t see the formatting on the page, I’ve found a lot of humour in Dracula so far that I would partly credit to some excellent narration.
Has anyone else seen Big Magic over and over again in the creative community? I’ve been giving it a miss so far, but after a casting director recommended it as well, I threw my hands up in the air and tracked down a copy. I have no idea what to expect from the author of Eat, Pray, Love, but I promise to be honest with you all in my next roundup so you can see if it’s worth the hype!
What have you been reading this month? Comment below to share your favourite, I’m always looking for recommendations!
You can check out some of my earlier Reading Roundups here: