Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 2011 edition
Series: N/A
Genre: Gothic, Mystery
Pages: 1038
POV: 1st person and 3rd person, switching
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Rating: The Treasure Vault

Bleak House opens in the twilight of foggy London, where fog grips the city most densely in the Court of Chancery. The obscure case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, in which an inheritance is gradually devoured by legal costs, the romance of Esther Summerson and the secrets of her origin, the sleuthing of Detective Inspector Bucket and the fate of Jo the crossing-sweeper, these are some of the lives Dickens invokes to portray London society, rich and poor, as no other novelist has done. Bleak House, in its atmosphere, symbolism and magnificent bleak comedy, is often regarded as the best of Dickens. A 'great Victorian novel', it is so inventive in its competing plots and styles that it eludes interpretation.

BLEAK HOUSE was a required text for one of my undergrad courses, and I had mixed expectations as I cracked open the colossal novel. By colossal, I mean extremely, ridiculously huge and why on earth would anyone write a novel this long? Let's face it, BLEAK HOUSE is daunting. You hold this book in your hands and you'll likely find yourself wondering why you even picked it up. Dickens does not do anything to comfort the reader as he begins with a highly critical omniscient narrator that requires readers to pay close attention (or else you'll miss quite a bit). It takes an adjustment period before you grow to appreciate those chapters.

But, after spending a few hundred pages switching between the omniscient narrator and Esther's first person point-of-view, it becomes easier to enjoy this story and the complex layers of meaning it provides to readers. Mystery, murder, romance, friendship, family, and more, BLEAK HOUSE is filled with everything you could ever hope and expect to find in a story. Despite the fact that it took some time before I started to enjoy the book, and even though I have a love / hate relationship with this story, BLEAK HOUSE surprised me in many ways and has earned a spot among my favorites. 

Highlights: Dickens excels in foreshadowing and storytelling. I imagine this will be a story that I will gain more from by rereading it again in the future. There are so many layers to this novel, which makes it an intriguing story to ponder. While this is a wonderful text to analyze, it is also a wonderful story to read for the mystery, the romance, the relationships, and the Gothic elements. Despite the many storylines, you quickly realize these characters and their stories are all interconnected, and I found myself rooting for quite a few of them. 

Lowlights: The narration, especially the omniscient narrator's voice, takes some adjustment. There is a lot happening within the text, and if you're reading at a quick pace, it can be difficult to catch every little detail.

Cover: Fantastic design, although for this edition, the birdcages do rub off on your hands when you hold the novel. It would have been nice to have some sort of finish or clear cover to keep that from happening.

Rating: The Treasure Vault. This book is a new favorite and is worthy of keeping company with the crown jewels. I'd highly recommend this novel to other readers. If I could give this book a palace of it's own, I would. (5+ out of 5)


  1. I have loved Charles Dickens for years, but have never gotten around to Bleak House. I will have to check this one out. His use of foreshadowing and the different narrators sounds really good. When I am looking for a more challenging adult read, I will have to pick this one up. I love when assigned reading turns out to be one of my favorite books! Great review, Lea!

    1. I'm a new reader when it comes to Dickens work, and I feel like an idiot for avoiding his storires - his writing definitely takes getting used to, but it's fantastic!

      Do you have any favorite Dickens novels? I'm struggling to decide which story read next!

  2. I keep meaning to try more Dickens.

  3. The foreshadowing and storytelling sounds great even if the narration seems to be a little lacking.

  4. I'll have to check this out via audio, I've enjoyed some of Dickens work via audio rather than trying to read them myself.

    Shame about the cover, I hope it didn't ruin it too much!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist