If a book is any good you can’t stretch the last 100 pages to last a week, and Bleak House certainly is. It is, of course, by Charles Dickens and is nearly 800 pages of wonderful Dickensian language which stops some people on page 2. (It did me, years ago, but now I’m made of sterner stuff. Or just like having people to readalong with.) Bleak House is about the never-ending chancery suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which has been going along for God knows how long and the various people it has destroyed along the way, turning their wits by holding out hope like a multi-generational will o’ the wisp. Two young people Ada and Richard are wards of the case. Fortunately for them, they are given a home by the generous John Jarndyce who also looks after the young Esther Summerson, who is also orphaned and only knows at first that it was better she had never been born. The other focal point is Lady Dedlock, whose beauty is matched only by her boredom, almost nothing interests her, though she is rich and could have or do anything she wanted, until she sees a scrap of mysterious handwriting.
Little Esther escapes the stern, but unloving care of the woman who turns out to be her aunt, when she is seven and sent to school by Mr. Jarndyce. Later she meets the cousins, Ada and Richard and all three have a lovely life at the now inappropriately named Bleak House for a brief while. But these things never last. There is a cast of dozens of Dickensian characters, charming, hilarious, dopey, greedy, actually, you could probably find all seven dwarves and then some. Dickens was a master of character and there are even plot twists I didn’t see coming for 100 pages. It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, makes the reader laugh and cry and groan at the injustices of Victorian society, many of which are still with us, though not to the same degree. There is also mystery, beginning with Esther’s parentage and the death by opium of a mysterious man known only as Nemo and spontaneous combustion — this book has it all. I don’t know if it’s Dickens’ best, but it’s certainly one of his best and I enjoyed most of it quite a lot. There are some dull passages, but for the most part, the pace is excellent, the characters unforgettable and the story is a corker. If you have any tolerance for nineteenth century lit, Bleak House should be on your list.
Definitely going to watch at least one of the mini-series: Gillian Anderson or Diana Rigg? I may not be able to choose. I might have to watch both. Almost forgot, this counts as a 19th century classic and a chunkster for two different challenges.