Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book 14- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." The opening line to this novel, "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens, is arguably one of the best known lines in all of literature, ever. It is also a pretty accurate way to describe the way I felt about reading it. Some days were good, some days were rough... it took me nearly two weeks to complete, not out of difficulty with the actual reading, but due to frustration with my inability to get engaged. Once I did, however, the rest of the book went quickly, much to my enjoyment.

"A Tale of Two Cities" is set during the French Revolution, a period in history I (and probably most of the people I know) know little about. The "Two Cities" referenced in the title are London and Paris, and the story constantly shifts back and forth between the two. The entire novel is separated into three parts, and it took the entire first part (admittedly the shortest section) and probably about 1/4 of the second part until I finally stopped dreading picking it up every day.

In the beginning, we are introduced to Mr. Lorry, a man who works at a famous bank in London, who has been sent to meet a woman and take her with him to "retrieve" her father, a French doctor recently released from prison. Dr. Manette, the prisoner, had been incarcerated without charge or trial for about 18 years, and has never met his daughter, Lucie; she had been brought up believing he was dead, and upon meeting him, devotes herself completely to taking care of him. He's a bit insane at this point, but Lucie slowly brings him to his right mind, and they find refuge back in London.

Later, we are introduced to Charles Darnay, another Frenchman-in-London, accused of being a spy. At his trial, Lucie Manette (who had met him briefly on her return trip to London with her father) is called as a witness to supposedly uphold the charges that he is a spy; she tells her story quite unwillingly. Finally, a man who looks nearly identical to Mr. Darnay, a lawyer by the name of Sydney Carton, convinces the jury that there is no solid evidence that Mr. Darnay is involved in anything, and that his own similarity to Mr. Darnay is proof that there is no way to be 100% sure Mr. Darnay was ever involved in anything. The jury buys it and Darnay is released. He later marries Lucie Manette, and they continue to live in London with her father.

While this is all going on, the French Revolution is beginning, and the story bounces back and forth between the Manette/Darnay's in London and the Defarge family and their townspeople in France. A selfish, oppressive ruler, Marquis St. Evremonde, is murdered in the name of the Revolution, and the town of Saint Antoine becomes a kind of epicenter for the Revolution, with the Defarge's at the helm. Eventually, word reaches Charles Darnay that an old, loyal associate of his has been imprisoned wrongfully in Paris and begs that he return to France to clear his name; it comes out, then, that Darnay is actually the nephew of the murdered Marquis and the rightful new Marquis St. Evremonde; with the political climate the way that it is, he is imprisoned as soon as he returns to Paris, and the fight for his own life begins.

The book didn't get as interesting to me until the storylines in France and in London finally began interweaving... it was frustrating to flip and flop between cities each chapter and keep track of two story lines and tons of characters without any association between them. The number of characters in this book was difficult for me as well; keeping track of everybody was hard, and if I had known how it would be from the beginning, I'd have taken notes. However, once the storylines finally started coming together, everything got easier to follow, characters included, and I finished the last 300 or so pages (of 434 total) in about 3 days. The first 100 or so pages took almost two weeks.

I wouldn't say that I "love" this book, but it's one that I'm really, really glad I read... the story ended up being a really good one, once I got more engaged with it, and the ending was amazing. The last line of the book, not as popular as the first, but still famous, now gives me goosebumps because I understand the context: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." If you want to know what it really means, you should read the book ;)

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Sounds like it's one of those that once you see the ending, you want to turn around and read it again.