Sunday 20 November 2011

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Sweet Lucie Manette and Mr Lorry travel to France in order to rescue her Father. Once believed to be dead he is now free in France after years of unlawful imprisonment. He is now a broken man and it's only the love of his daughter that can bring him back to a shadow of his former self. Back in England circumstances cause to men to fall in love with Lucie. Meanwhile France is in upheaval and is heading towards it's revolution. At the center is the man and wife who cared for Dr Manette until his daughter arrived. Lucie is now married and with her own little daughter but is somehow dragged into the center of events. It's only the love that these two men feel for her that will help save her and her family.

I think most of Dickens books are famous but this one is probably more famed. Mainly for it's opening line. How many of us could quote it without having ever read the book? I know I could. Despite that I was a little hesitant in reading it. I was so disappointed with Hard Times and I didn't want that same disappointment. I was worried that maybe Dickens had lost it's appeal for me. I have to admit that at first I thought that worry was going to come true.

The book has an exciting start. Mr Lorry is on his way to Paris by coach. There is already turmoil in France and each traveler is suspicious of the other and so keeps to themselves. Mr Lorry and Lucie then arrive at the wine shop of Defarge and his wife. Again there seems to be some tension amongst the people and Defarge is keen to show Dr Manette off to others. This then filters away to them being back in England and settled some years. The story slows down and there are hints of things within this section that seem to be unconnected to the story. It was with impatience that I read the scenes of Mr Cruncher and his family. All very interesting had it anything to do with the story itself. Plus it wasn't the only thing that didn't seem to connect.

In the third part things get interesting again. The tension in Paris has built up nicely with characters we already know at the center. As I said already Lucie and her family and friends are dragged into these events and the book really takes off. It's in the last 100 pages of the book that all these scenes that annoyed me now make sense. They are actually connected and it adds to the tension of the story. I probably shouldn't have been surprised as Dickens is well known for his coincidences in his tales. I happen to like that aspect of his writing and it certainly made this book exciting.

My complaint about Hard Times was that the characters felt a little flat and that the characters I found interesting practically disappeared from the story. This wasn't the case with Two Cities. Sure the characters were stereotypical for the author but there were more to them. Each of them had an interesting back story and there were even one or two surprises in there for me.

A Tale of Two Cities has not only revived my faith in Dickens it is now my favourite of his books. Looking through the list though it would seem that I have mainly read his later books. When I next plan to pick up one I think I will read an earlier book (possibly his first) as an interesting comparison.

This was my classic book of the month.


  1. Hello.

    It's good to know that the later parts of the book make it all worth it. I've read the first few chapters of this book over and over for years, and could never go any further. I hope 2012 will be my year to finally finish it.

  2. Hi,

    It really is worth persevering with it for the third part of the book. Hope you manage it next year.

  3. Yet another classic that I need to get to!

  4. Having read both I can only agree with you. Hard Times is simply not as engaging or interesting a story but that is probably mostly because Dickens wrote it with an agenda in mind and, instead of telling a story he was trying to teach a lesson and provide a moral to the meager story through which he was being overly pedantic.

  5. A Tale of Two Cities has the second best last sentence of any book I've ever read. That was a weird sentence.

  6. Satia, I didn't realise he had written Hard Times for one purpose. I normally research these things too. It makes sense now. Glad I'm not the only one who couldn't take to it.

    FBT, it is a fantastic line and what an ending too. What was your first best last sentence of any book?

  7. Oh it's such a spoiler I can't write it without giving away the ending (I will if you never plan on reading the book), but it's from my favourite book Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman.

    A Tale of Two Cities was my favourite until I re-read Call Me... earlier this year and it completely broke my heart. Just like in A Tale... that last sentence is just so full of everything that makes the character larger and better than life. I'm not explaining it properly, I know. Let's just say I love em. Love em all.

  8. Oooh, you have me intrigued. I have now ordered a copy of it.

    I think I understand what you mean about the character though.

    Thank you so much for the recommendation. Can't wait!

  9. I hope you like it. It's very beautifully written and even if the story doesn't take your fancy, I'm sure the language will. Also, a lot of literary references (which I always love).

    I look forward to reading your review.

  10. Okay, you have just added to my excitement of getting this book. Love literary references too. I think I will save it for when I come off placement so I can really enjoy it.