This novel is basically Dickens' rant at the British legal system of his time. Still, Dickens is a master of storytelling, so it's an entertaining rant. I work at a law firm, so I was probably a little more interested in the legal aspect of the book than most readers would be. There are a ton of characters -- after a while, you start getting confused -- but only a few of them are pivotal; most are used allegorically to exaggerate and illuminate faults (the woman so intent on saving Africa she neglects her own home, for one) and in the end evil is met with punishment and good is met with reward. It's a long one, so be prepared, and it doesn't have the gravitas of Tale of Two Cities, but it's an interesting book that is classic Dickens.
This is generally considered one of Dickens's best works, though it's not the most widely read or frequently filmed, because it's also one of his longest works and has a ton of subplots. At the center of Bleak House is the case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which has been running through the Chancery Court for so long that it's become a self-perpetuating monster that none of its participants really understands:
"Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless."
The main character is Esther Summerson, a ward of John Jarndyce. Besides Esther, Mr. Jarndyce takes in two other wards who have "inherited" the suit, Ada and Richard.
The novel runs through several different plot threads and involves dozens of characters. The most memorable, besides Esther, are the crusty, conservative Baronet Sir Leicester Dedlock and his much younger wife Lady Honoraria Dedlock, Sir Leicester's sinister lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn, Harold Skimpole, a manipulative mooch, and of course, the Lord Chancellor "Keep away from flames" Krook.
This was one of Dickens's "social criticism" novels. While he was mostly ripping into the Chancery Court, he involves a cast of colorful characters illuminating the entire spectrum of human behavior, from the despicable and greedy to the selfless and charitable to the silly to the pathetic. This book ups the Dickensian quota for tragic tear-jerking deaths, administers the expected just comeuppance for evil-doers, and of course, properly marries off the heroine in the end. There is a secret illegitimate child, a murder mystery, and plenty of humor and pathos.
That said... ye gads was this book long! Bleak House is one of those novels that earned Dickens his reputation for being very, very wordy and writing books that would be considered bloated and full of filler by modern standards. Usually I can listen to really long audiobooks and follow along for the duration. Someday I will have to have another go at this book and actually read it as opposed to half-listening to it, but it just wasn't my favorite Dickens.
It's Dickens, so of course the filler is still very good, but I missed the comedy and the (relative) conciseness of his other novels. Plus, Dickens really doesn't write fully fleshed out women, so Esther is your typical woman-on-a-pedestal, always modest, always demure, always perfect and angelic.
Totally worth it if you like Dickens and/or long audiobooks, but there are a LOT of subplots and minor characters.
David Case is not my favorite narrator - I think I would probably go with the Simon Vance version. He read the book well enough, but his voice creaked too much for some of the characters for my liking, and I could hear him swallowing or licking his lips often enough to be a little distracting. (Can't blame him, considering how LONG this book is, but still.)
What a great story - full of twists and turns, and unexpectedly bring all the multitude of characters and their story lines together by the end of the novel. The narrator did a great job with the dual narrative voices, and a very admirable job of giving each character their own, distinctive "voice." Highly recommended for Dickens fans.
The last half of the story really picked up and saved this from being just a longwinded jumble of characters. It starts out introducing several of them in quick succession and I was drowning in a sea of names. I had a very hard time keeping them all separate and understanding the very complicated web of interaction among them. As the story went along, the minor characters fell away and I was able to identify the main players but it took a long time for that to happen. The plot and sub-plots are extremely complex and I must admit I needed help from Wikipedia to get me through. If you are better than I at listening closely you may have a better understanding of how it's all going but I was completely lost. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book, I did. Just following along with the characters is an enjoyable ride but since I listen while I run or drive, I can't focus my attention close enough to capture all the fabulous nuances that Dickens has hidden in this one.
David Case was OK. There was some breathing, smacking and swallowing but not as bad as I have heard from other narrators. He did a very good job with the different voices especially the women's' voices considering his voice is rather deep. He did not make them all out to be ditzy or snobby sounding. At first I thought I'd have liked it to have been narrated by a woman but by the half way point, I had adjusted to it.
Overall, this was not my favorite Dickens novel but it wasn't terrible. A little too political for my taste but it was very poignant for it's time. If you have the time, give it a try.
It's Dickens! The story is a classic. Have a test listen to the narrator first, you're either going to love his accent and attitude or he's going to drive you around the bend. I personally love his dry droll bored upper class condescending narration. I don't think everyone else will though.
I ordered this audio book on the basis of the reviews about the wonderful narration. I couldn't disagree more. Perhaps this story lends itself to a dramatization. Even so, for me the narrator's tired, pinched, snobby voice made Bleak House impossible to listen to.
Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog it is too dark to read. ~Groucho Marx
This book has been such a fun read and so cinematic. If Dickens were alive today, he would be a screenwriter. Although there are many chapters that feel like diversions and the plot doesn't really thicken until part 5, I couldn't stop listening because the images are so vivid and the minor characters such a hoot! This reader is perfect for Dickens, and creates distinct voices for this huge cast of characters. My only complaint is that the audio quality isn't up to current standards and sounded a bit tinny.
I did not think this book would ever end. The characters are all one dimensional, to an excruciating degree. I know that is Dickens' trademark, but he really outdid himself here. Dickens is one of my favorite authors, but not because of works like this. This was simply horrid, and needlessly so - huge amounts of it were totally extraneous. Extremely difficult to figure out just what the heck the story was, only became apparent at the very end because of all the garbage filler. I guess it was scandalous 150 years ago, but all I could think was "please put me out of my misery." What's weird is that the house that's called "Bleak" is not supposed to be "bleak" at all, it's supposed to be a happy home. I think maybe the term got its meaning from this book. I listened to it a long time ago, so can't comment on the narrator, which, if memory serves at all, is probably a good thing for the narrator, because I seem to recall it being garbled. But that might have been a production problem. Anyhow, excellent cure for chronic insomnia. Two stars just because it's DICKENS, fer cryin' out loud, and it WAS scandalous 150 years ago, if you could manage to wade through all the excess muck. (Probably written as a serial in a periodical, where more words meant more episodes, meant more $$, to our ultimate disservice.)