Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens

I’m reading Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood as part of Benjamin McEvoy’s Hardcore Literature Book Club. There will probably be multiple readings of various editions because of that.

I grabbed this, however, because I wanted a relatively quick and painless first run-through. What I got instead was much more: I remembered how much I actually like Dickens’ writing. I like his word choices, I like the sound when his work is read aloud, and I love the clarity of his prose. Admittedly, I only have five other Dickens’ pieces under my belt so far (A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and Nicholas Nickelby), but I expect to change that. I’ve attempted Bleak House several times, but was clearly not ready for it.

Like many of us, I read my first Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) in high school. I was very lucky, however — our teacher, Miss Alma Doherty, loved both Dickens and Shakespeare, and made sure we heard the works of theirs that she taught in Saudi, schlepping in her own copies of the recordings and her own portable phonograph. It was a wonderful way to get me engaged with the literature, and a great way to discover the precursor to audiobooks. In fact, I spent much of that summer in the Queens Central Library (it had air conditioning) listening to various recordings of books and plays, guided by the knowledgeable staff and Mr. Miton Byam, the Director of the Queens Borough Public Library.

Anyway, I fell in love with Dickens’ work, although reading it kind of got lost among all the other things I’ve read over the years. I’m really glad I decided to take part in this club read; it helped me find my way back to one of my favorite authors, so I can resume reading his work.

If you do choose to try some Dickens there are a couple of things to remember. First, the man was a product of his time. There are unkind portrayals of Jews and others. Second, his works often started out as weekly serials in the papers, so there are lots of cliffhangers…this is not a bad thing, by the way; it keeps you engaged from one major plot point to the next. It also means that if you have a busy life (and, who doesn’t) there are plenty of places you can pause and pick up the story later. Third, his characters may stay with you long after you have read them. I find this a Good Thing, and a mark of a really memorable book. Four, there is always a lot to think about in a Dickens story. Having lived at one time or another at pretty much every economic level, Dickens had a unique way of observing society. Nor did he shy away from doing so.

So, take the plunge — if you dare — and jump into the Dickens pool. I’ll be waiting for you.

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