June 21, 2012

Little Dorritt **

** Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens, 1857

Bless me father, for I've been reading Dickens. It's been three years since my last novel.

Giving Dickens two stars out of four feels like cussing in church, but after looking over the review I gave Our Mutual Friend in 2009, I should have had the guts to give it two stars, also. I don't know if my tastes have changed dramatically from twenty years ago when I gave Great Expectations and David Copperfield four star reviews, or if these two more-recently-read-but-lesser-celebrated novels are that dramatically different from those two classics.

I enjoyed the BBC production of Little Dorrit so much, especially Andy Serkis's portrayal of Rigaud, that I grabbed a (free and pitifully formatted) copy of it for my Kindle last year. Clocking in at 334,000 words, it was clear that Dickens was being paid by the word and after five or ten hours of slogging through it, I was feeling every bump in the road and I was barely a third of the way through.

The book is divided into two sections, Poverty and Riches. I took a several-month break between the two to get my strength back up to finish it.

That's not to say there is no brilliance in Little Dorrit. To the contrary, there is quite a bit of it, particularly the satire of the Circumlocution office. But like the modern US welfare system, of which Dickens would doubtlessly have been a supporter, the novel seemed to suffocate under its own weight.

For example, the character of Flora Finching was humorous due to her intense case of logorrhoea, but it was illustrated through passages of borderline-indecipherable monologue that went on for pages. After a while the amusement fades and you just have to start skimming.

Mea culpa, but there it is.

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