Held to be Dickens' finest novel, containing one of the most vast, complex and engaging arrays of minor characters and sub-plots in his entire canon. Memorable characters include the menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn, the friendly, but depressive John Jarndyce, and the childish and disingenuous Harold Skimpole, as well as the likeable but imprudent Richard Carstone. A suspenseful tale about the injustices of the 19th-century English legal system. This novel set the standard for modern day legal thrillers.
Public Domain (P)2013 Trout Lake Media
To tackle this novel in any form is no idle pastime, but requires a serious commitment of time and intellect. With its complex interweaved narrative strands (alternating between Esther's first-person narrative and that of a nameless omniscient narrator), its extensive cast of characters, and its frequent digressions, it poses a particular challenge as an audiobook. It is the kind of novel that should have an index, and which in paper form would have had me often searching back through the pages for a reminder about who had said what to whom and when. Since this was not supported in my audio reader, there was no alternative but to soldier on through the thicket. A novel this dense in character and incident would challenge the greatest actor, but with Peter Batchelor on top form my interest never flagged. If I had one quibble it would be with the production itself - the frequent "re-recordings" are spliced in rather too abruptly, distracting from the flow of words. As for the story itself, Dickens' usual slow buildup is taken to extremes here, but the eventual payoff is as moving as he ever achieved elsewhere. The difficulty for the modern reader is to comprehend how a lawsuit can simply continue under its own momentum without any prospect of conclusion for generations despite the best will of its parties to end it. This undermines its effectiveness as the central narrative device that underpins the action of the novel, but as a critique of the legal system of the time, it was epoch-making and quite possibly history-changing. The greatest incidental pleasure is to be had in the minor comic characters such as the paragon of "deportment", Mr Turvidrop, and the evangelist Mr Chadband with his orotund sermonising (ministers of any stripe rarely fare well in Dickens' hands). Serious Dickens fans simply must attempt this, but best you know what to expect beforehand. You will be glad if you can make it to the end.
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