Thursday, December 8, 2011

Great Expectations

So I've had a tough time finding a rhythm for reading and reviewing.  We moved, then I was finishing my twin nephews' stockings... excuses, excuses.  But now I am again gainfully employed (more on that soon), the stockings are done and I think I will be able to be back in a groove.  May not be the frequency of prior years, but no more 3-months-between-book-reviews bullshit.  Promise.
I had very modest expectations about Great Expectations, a classic by Charles Dickens that I have not heard of anyone reading outside of high school English classes.  I'd read A Tale of Two Cities as a sophomore in high school, and I hated it.  My impression of Dickens was that his books became classics because he was old and British, and he'd written the impressively bizarre and dark A Christmas Carol along with some other old British crap.  Well, apologies to your memory, Mr. Dickens.  Your other books are bizarre and dark and kinda hilarious, too.

The book begins with the back story of our narrator and protagonist Pip, whose first and last names are not really relevant.  Orphaned at a young age, he's been raised by his sister (who pretty much resents him) and her husband Joe (who is pretty much bullied by his wife).  He ends up being forced to assist a felon with the completion of his escape by providing the convict with a file and a parcel of food.  This memory tortures Pip, who sees his convict in every shadow.  After a subsequent run-in with the same convict, Pip doesn't hear from him again.

Several years after this misadventure, Pip finds himself befriended rather mysteriously by the (totally insane) Miss Havisham, an elderly-ish woman of indeterminate age, who dresses in her one-time wedding dress with all clocks in her mansion eternally reading the time of her being left at the altar.  Pip becomes enamored with the somewhat unexplained Estella, has a run-in with a young gentleman who tries unsuccessfully to kick his ass, meets a whole pile of strangers who hate his guts.  And ultimately, he learns that he has been left a fortune by an unnamed benefactor.

Not to give away the story - it's quite compelling and takes several very unexpected turns - but Pip goes to London to live out his great expectations.  Hence, the title.  He meets a number of dark and maybe-evil supporting characters, and nothing that happens early in the book should be forgotten.  I'm not going to go as far as to call this one "highly recommended", but I will certainly not shy away from more Dickens in my future.

Next up: Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian novelist Per Petterson.  It was released in English translation in 2007 and appears on quite a few best-of lists for that year. 

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