I'm rereading Bleak House. It is Dickens's best.
Is it the best book ever?
Sometimes Russian novels are rewarding--I absolutely love Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago--but then comes an urge to settle into a big 19th-century English novel. Dickens's voice is like no one else's. There is no American Dickens. There is no Russian Dickens. There is no French Dickens. And all the Dickens knock-offs in the world--Richard Flanagan's Wanting, Matthew Pearls' The Last Dickens, Dan Simmons's Drood, etc.--don't equal the real Dickens.
Some love A Christmas Carol in December, but Bleak House has it all without alluding to Christmas. The redemption of orphans, old bachelors, and chaotic children of working philanthropist mothers. The reunion, or reconciliation, however brief, of mothers with children. The mimesis of family relationships among characters who come from abusive, neglectful, single-parent, or adoptive families. Of course many of Dickens's characters suffer and die without ever finding the happiness of Bleak House, and some choose to leave the happiness in search of false idols, money or the Court of Chancery, but Dickens renders the characters unforgettable and mostly sympathetic.
|Esther Summerson in the Masterpiece Theater version|
Here are a few sentences from the 2nd paragraph:
"Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green airs and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships..."And there's more fog.
If I had one book on a desert island, it would be Bleak House (or David Copperfield, or...). It's hard to choose. Bleak House would be one of them.