I normally view Charles Dickens as a treat, something that will be a long read and certainly more involved than the more usual light fare, but absolutely worth it. Anyone who’s ever read David Copperfield will know what I mean, and I was coming off an absolute blast in the form of The Pickwick Papers.
The next one that popped up in my to-be-read pile was Barnaby Rudge, and the edition I had in hand was an old Collins hardcover in a format that is smaller than the mass-market paperbacks of today. It seemed innocent enough until, on closer inspection, I realized that it was 600 pages long, the thin paper making it look much shorter.
Well, most Dickens books are long, so I wasn’t particularly worried…
Unfortunately, this one is at least 300 pages too long (when reading, I would have said 400 pages too long, but I’m feeling more generous now).
The problem is that old Charles indulges a little too passionately in his love for drawing characters and gives un a first section of the book in which nothing too interesting happens, and what does occur does so at a snail’s pace. That makes it… difficult to get through.
Which is a pity, because the final 200 pages are among the best in Dickens. The mess of character threads that had been lying loosely all over the place suddenly tauten and turn into a story… and a thrilling one at that.
But most modern readers aren’t going to get that far. They’ll drop off in the middle for something more immediately rewarding (pickwick, perhaps), so maybe that this book isn’t among the author’s better-known works is not so bad. After all, we wouldn’t want people to be turned off Dickens because of one bad beginning, would we?
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose books do not begin slowly. They tend to start in the middle of the action and go on from there (except for one which leads off with a sex scene). His literary fiction can be sampled in Love and Death–buy it here!