Title: Great Expectations

Author: Charles Dickens

Date Finished: 22/06/12

Re-Read? : Second time read

Challenges? : Yes – Victorian Challenge 2012 & The Classics Club & The Literary Classics

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

I knew I needed to re-read Great Expectations at some point, because I was too young to really appreciate/understand it the first time I read it, a few years ago.  Basically, I think I got the fundamentals – the basic story and who the characters were, but I remember it being a struggle to read and now I know I was just that bit too young.

Also, the edition I read a few years ago was an old Penguin paperback I found in a second hand book shop with lots of writing in, as the previous owner had obviously studied it at school.  Now, I am someone who needs books to be “nice”.  Note, I don’t say “new” because there is nothing wrong with reading a second (or third or fourth) hand book; but I have real issues with broken books, print that is too small and many other things that make reading harder than in needs to be.  Therefore I thought I would treat myself to a nice new copy, and this was just the time that the Penguin English Library was launched.  What a coincidence – one of their first books was Great Expectations, so that was that!  You can see how lovely it looks.

So I was all prepared to read.

The plot in Great Expectations is something I thought I essentially ‘got’ from my first read of this book.  However, I was wrong.  There were so many twists and turns that I had completely missed the first time and even though I assumed I got the basic story, I didn’t really get that either!

I was really impressed by the story Dickens tells in this books – before, I thought it was a good idea but it was just another ‘hard-done-by boy grows up to be good with disappointments’ but it was so much more than that.  Especially in the second half of the third volume, I could not stop reading.

The characters are another thing I presumed I understood already.  Sadly, no – I was wrong again!  Yes, I remembered Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella and Joe, but I had completely missed Herbert, Biddy, Orlick and many more.  The characterisation was perfection, as I have come to expect from Dickens, and again all these characters are completely unique.  It is truly amazing to think that one person thought up all these different people and got them absolutely spot on – you can see and hear them all right in front of you.

Of course the prose is flawless and the setting, especially the marshes, is completely unique.  The reasons for me concluding with a 4/5 and not a 5/5 are twofold.  Basically, I compared how I felt about reading other similar(ish) books that I really loved, such as Jane Eyre and David Copperfield and I realised that this didn’t spark my reading in the same way.  Until the last 100 pages, I was going quite slowly (for me) and didn’t have the drive to plough on with the story.  Secondly, I didn’t warm to the characters as much as I did with David Copperfield.  I understand that this is obviously a less ‘nice’ book and that there are many unpleasant characters, but I didn’t feel the motivation to read all about the minor characters in Great Expectations as I did in David Copperfield.  No-one rivalled Peggotty/Betsey/Mr Dick.

So overall I really did enjoy Great Expectations, especially towards the end.  Also, it completely proves my case for re-reading.  You can get so so so much more out of a book the second or third or fourth time you read it.  I had missed so much the first time round.  Re-reading lets you experience more because you can see beyond the major plot and characters – you get to really appreciate the author’s skill and craftsmanship.  So yeah, everyone should re-read!

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