Hey guys, gals and enthusiastic bookworms. I’ve decided to go all highbrow today and review some classics, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I’m pleased to say that I’ve come to really enjoy reading classics, they make for such an interesting reading experience because even if you don’t end up loving them, you always learn something! I went through a patch last year of not reading many, but my enthusiasm for them has recently been renewed so I picked these two off the Rory Gilmore Challenge to give a go. As always, I am not an English major, but here’s what I thought:
I don’t know why this book works, but it does. On paper, it sounds oh so boring and like a school child’s required reading worst nightmare. It’s a book where nothing happens, where the main character after getting expelled from his private school, wanders around New York City meeting up with random people because he doesn’t want to go home and confront his parents. It’s a story about a whiny privileged white kid who throws opportunities to have a good life away, and yet somehow, despite sounding like a recipe for disaster and epic hate, it’s absolutely wonderful. But I can definitely see why this book has split so many opinions!
Like I’ve said above, this is not a plot driven novel, and for a good part of it I found myself saying ‘hmm, I’m sure there’s a plot around here somewhere…’ until I realised there really wasn’t. This book is all about one thing, Holden Caulfield and his self-exploration. The voice Salinger has created is entirely what carries The Catcher in the Rye, it’s completely unique. Through the use of endless colloquial slang, repetitive phrases and run on sentences that give the sense that the character is talking directly to the reader, Salinger makes Holden leap off the page in 3D colour. He’s hypocritical, a compulsive liar and a slacker, and if I had to stay in a room with him for more than 10 minutes I would probably end up slapping him or trying to escape through a skylight. And yet, on paper, I can’t help but like him, because despite all his bravado, confidence and assurance that he’s got everything worked out, he’s as vulnerable as a kitten and utterly lost. It a very interesting contradiction.
Throughout the novel Holden experiences a state of constant melancholy, he’s going through a time of change in his life, caught in that awkward transition between adolescence and adulthood where everything around him is changing and he’s not sure he wants to change with it. He sees the adult world as phony and pointless, and he can’t see how he’ll fit into it. He’s comforted by what’s familiar and wants to save others from having to experience the harshness of the world. As a reader we watch him stumble through conversations with people who don’t understand him, he hangs out with prostitutes, and ducks in Central Park, desperately seeking meaning and clinging to innocence and childhood pleasures. I think the reason Holden has become such an iconic character is because we all know a Holden Caulfield, maybe we even recognise a little of him in ourselves.
Overall, I really enjoyed this modern classic, and it was very easy to read so I’d definitely recommend it for classic newbies. I think if I had read it when I was younger for school, I wouldn’t have liked it at all or empathised with Holden’s struggles, so I’m glad I’ve come to it later in life on my own terms. I would probably recommend it most to people in their 20s. 🙂
Writing Style: 5/5 // Originality: 4/5 // Entertainment: 4/5 // Character Development: 5/5 //Would I recommend this book? Yes!
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Overall Impression: An interesting excursion through the French Revolution (and a not so interesting love triangle).
Hm. Well, this wasn’t my favourite Dickens. Although A Tale of Two Cities had some interesting elements, I can’t seem to make myself feel the same endearment towards it that I have for Great Expectations or A Christmas Carol.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story (I was), it follows a young girl, Lucie, who receives news from a man named Mr Lorry that her father, long thought dead, is actually alive. Together, they retrieve him from a French prison and bring him back to England. Lucie, aware of her father’s fragile health and confused mind, dedicates her time to looking after him and her good looks and kind nature soon attracts admires. However, the families lives are interrupted when they find themselves and their loved ones caught up in the brutal French Revolution, and heads will roll…
So, although I didn’t LOVE this novel, my favourite aspect of it was the historical background. Fun fact: I was a history buff at school, but knew nothing whatsoever about the French Revolution. I didn’t realise, until reading Dickens prose, how utterly brutal and bloodthirsty it was or how many innocent lives were lost to the dreaded guillotine. Dickens writes this beautiful description of peasants desperately scrambling to lap up wine from a broken cask in the streets, which soon becomes a metaphor for the rest of the book and the French peasants lust for blood. It’s the most memorable, horrific passage.
Unfortunately, I really struggled with the pacing of this novel. While I was hooked for the first and last few chapters, A Tale of Two Cities seemed to plateau painfully in between. Dickens prose seemed even more verbose than usual, and I regularly zoned out and had to reread passages. I also became somewhat confused by the plot at points (which is probably my fault, rather than the books).
The relationship between Lucie and her father was endearing, however, Lucie herself annoyed me. She was portrayed as such a stereotypical female of the time, a delicate little flower with no brains, only useful for caring for her father, looking after the household and rearing children, and it just made me really dislike her. You don’t get any insight into her as a person, and she is constantly being rescued and coddled because she’s useless and a slave to her emotions, often overcome by them, in fact. Ugh. She’s very much a character of the time who doesn’t sit quite so well in the modern age.
In contrast, the male characters were interesting and complex (of course). Lucie’s father was fascinating, Mr Lorry was instantly likable for standing by the family through their troubled times, Darnay was an idiot, but a chivalrous idiot with a big heart, while Carton who initially seems like a depressed, drunken waste of space, soon proves his strength of character in a way that will forever immortalise him in English literature. Unfortunately, all these male characters were utterly spellbound by Miss Lucie’s beauty, which was a bit annoying.
I also have to give a shoutout to Mr and Mrs Defarge, who are probably the most vile, cruel and barbaric of Dickens characters I have met to date, oh how I loved them!
Overall, I found A Tale of Two Cities to be a mixed bag, I loved some aspects of it and the ending left me gawping in shock, but the majority of the reading experience was a struggle; but I’m glad I read it. I can definitely understand why it’s a classic! I wouldn’t recommend this to classic newbies because it’s pretty tough going, but for Dickens fans and history buffs it’s a must read. 🙂
Writing Style: 3/5 // Originality: 4/5 // Entertainment: 3/5 // Character Development: 4/5 //Would I recommend this book? Yes!
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