A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens***

Reading dates: 15 August — 24 October 2013

I cannot say I enjoyed reading this. It has the characteristic Dickens pace, the interesting details, but when he is describing Paris pre-1789, he is like fish out of water. Yet, the last third of the book, the period of La Terreur where all the threads tie together, is absolute genius. It is elegant, dramatic, incredibly orchestrated. For example, towards the end, there is an encounter between two women in an empty flat, assessing each other, mortal enemies. One speaks French, the other English and without knowing the other’s language, they understand the threat they represent, the moral, political and national opposition they are to each other. That part is phenomenal to read. The first two thirds of the book, of course, set this up. I know this is necessary, but these parts are too unconnected, too bitty, too difficult to understand in terms of narrative. The book is a perfect example of why you should bear with it sometimes, complete its reading and assess it in its entirety. This story needed the drama of the guillotine, the true protagonist of the novel. For the feeling it left me with, and for those last wonderful passages, it gets more than the 2/3 of 5* it deserves.