Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities. I can't think of another book that has such a resonating beginning that makes you want to read it again and again to make sure you felt the beauty of each sentence lurking deep in your soul. It lures you in, how could it not?

Dickens takes his time with his story telling.  There's such a huge conflict in the book, and a brilliant political plot that is astounding. The characters take time to grow on you, they did for me but at the end you realize there's such a strong presence but it wasn't the characters that made me fall for it so much actually, except for the end in which one of the characters makes your heart weep but I won't go into that because not only was it the best part in the whole book and if I venture to tread on it lightly I'll either ruin it for someone or go on and on about it. Read it for the ending. That's all I'm saying.

The book shifts in the middle to something else entirely. I was hooked then to be honest. I liked the first part, but the second was amazing. Dickens isn't my favorite author, but I was a fan. I think that this book totally shifts the way you view him. It has the feeling of a proper classic, yet it's different. It's full of raw human emotions. Love and hate. Patriotism. Family. Compassion and brutality.

For me, A Tale of Two Cities is about how far we humans go for something we believe in or love. How far would you go for the greater good and how often are you misled in you path? How far we willing to sacrifice for love and  the happiness of the one we love?
When you actually think about it, it takes you off your guard. This is what's different about it I think. The fact that it had such a plot that kept changing and surprising you again and again. The language was beautiful. Some of the phrases and expressions will definitely strike a cord with you. You will find yourself staring at a line.

One thing about the characters, they'll seriously surprise you. I know I was. I was quite taken back with them, though they're not what I love about A Tale of Two Cities. Yet, I can't believe what changes they go through, and what they're capable of. Till the very last page you keep on discovering more about who they really are and I love that about the book. That it kept you engaged till the very end.

Here are some of the quotes I loved, some more for the language and the way words are put together, more for the thought they're carrying:

"Is it possible!" repeated Defarge, bitterly. "Yes. And a beautiful world we live in, when it IS possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done--done, see you!--under that sky there, every day. Long live the Devil. Let us go on."

"Nothing that we do is done in vain"

So strangely clouded were these refinements by the prison manners and gloom, so spectral did they become in the inappropriate squalor and misery through which they were seen, that Charles Darnay seemed to stand in a company of the dead. Ghosts all! The ghost of beauty, the ghost of stateliness, the ghost of elegance, the ghost of pride, the ghost of frivolity, the ghost of wit, the ghost of youth, the ghost of age, all waiting their dismissal from the desolate shore, all turning on him eyes that were changed by the death they had died in coming there.

"If you could say, with truth, to your own solitary heart, to-night, 'I have secured to myself the love and attachment, the gratitude or respect, of no human creature; I have won myself a tender place in no regard; I have done nothing good or serviceable to be remembered by!' your seventy-eight years would be seventy-eight heavy curses; would they not?"

A humongous thanks to Yasmine who made me read A Tale of Two Cities now when I was so sure I'd leave it unread for quite a while if I was left on my own. I enjoyed it all the more because of you!


Yasmine said...

Wow. I couldn't have expected a more amazing review than this :) I can see how you strongly felt about it, I love your analysis and conclusion; they really make sense. I kind of cried when I saw your dedication (just blame it on the depression and your deep thoughts about the novel) I was so touched.

You are one of the best things that happened to me this year, as cheesy as that sounds, but seriously you're one of my favorite persons and you did justice to one of my favorite books of all time.
much love <3

Rohit said...

It was very well written, but too Dickensian; it was detailed, yet interesting; it was this and that...ok I can't pretend to be Dickens but you get it, your review was true to the spirit of his writing style so to speak lol! Really like the way you review books Noor...I have no doubt you are in the wrong profession. God save your future this I mean you may well treat them, but they will have to put up with you recommending them books rather than prescribing medicines =P

Nonetheless, I really feel compelled to read this book now. I know there was an Indian art film some years ago based on this novel though they extended it a bit to call it a tale of three cities. Never watched it as it got banned for some reason..

Finally I now really have no reason to doubt you read a Dickensian classic recently. You actually used the word "humongous" in an affirmative statement. Hands down head bowed. I personally "loathe" this word, but then that's just me I guess hahaa..

Rummuser said...

Fantastic take on one of my all time favourite books. I am very glad that you read it. You can't really beat the old classics. If you can possibly get a DVD, you should see the film too with Dirk Bogarde.

Anonymous said...

Right - I have mixed feelings about A Tale of Two Cities - and it's that famous opening sentence that trips me up. Because people celebrate only the first part of the first sentence. They forget (though you haven't) that it goes on and on and on.
More curmudgeonliness about it here
However, I did enjoy the book and was moved towards the end.
I read Martin Chuzzlewit a few months ago - very very thin pages that kep sticking together - and many hundreds of them - but I enjoyed it hugely - very funny, very acutely observed. I highly recommend it.

Anonymous said...

The link might work better like this