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review 2017-07-11 19:37
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

I'd somehow, up to this point, never read A Tale of Two Cities. I know, I can't believe it either. 

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the years leading up to it, this is, at its very core, a romance novel. I was a little shocked by that, but I certainly didn't mind. Dickens's writing is simply breathtaking, and he never allows the characters' actions to become contrived. These people aren't saccharine cutouts, as is typical of romance novels (even from this era). Instead, it's a roomy, elegant story told with magnificent prose and populated with memorable characters. 

Most Dickens novels drag a bit (at least, the few I've read do), but this one doesn't. Not at all. From its iconic opening passage to the final chapter, the plot is pretty quick and doesn't get bogged down in an excessive amount of characters and subplots (looking at you, Our Mutual Friend). Instead, Dickens focuses on only a handful of characters and develops them fully. By the novel's third part I was truly invested in their lives, and wanted to know how everything would turn out. I truly cared! When reading most novels from the Victorian Age, I find myself a little put off by their chilliness, their dust and age. Not here. A Tale of Two Citiesfeels rather progressive and is very emotionally involving. 

If I were to critique this novel, I would say perhaps Dickens sacrificed a full exploration of the time period he was writing about to, instead, focus on his characters. I would've loved to have seen more build-up to the Revolution, though what the reader does get is fine. I could've done with more guillotine scenes myself. 

So far, this is my favorite Dickens novel — though I have many to read yet. This one certainly deserves its classic status, and I can't wait to give it a reread in a few years.

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review 2017-05-27 22:17
Review: A Tale of Two Cities
The Annotated A Tale of Two Cities - Susanne Alleyn

Ramblings about the Book

People who follow me may have seen me mention my intent to fit one non-SF&F classic per quarter into my heavily SF&F-based reading diet.  A Tale of Two Cities was my classic reading selection for the second quarter.  Last time, I chose an author and book that was completely new to me.  This time, I chose a book that I had been assigned to read in tenth grade but that I didn’t enjoy at the time and in fact didn’t remember at all about 25 years later.


My interest in this story fluctuated a little bit, especially in the first half, but I enjoyed it quite a bit by the end.  The first chapter starts in 1775, and the book was written by Dickens in 1859, so I guess that makes this historical fiction squared. :)  It’s set just before and during the French Revolution, which is a period of time I knew little about.  No doubt we discussed it in my tenth grade class, but those were the types of lessons that usually had me sneaking to read my own book if I was well-positioned to do so without getting caught, or nodding off in boredom if I wasn’t…


The characters never really grabbed me, except maybe toward the end.  Lucie in particular was hard for me to appreciate.  Dickens tells us about her impact on others but, for the most part, she just seemed to sit around and act distressed or sympathetic or on the verge of fainting without actually doing or saying much.  It's an interesting contrast with the more vivacious female characters in my previous classic selection, Pride and Prejudice.  Of all the characters, I think Lorry was the one who felt the most genuine to me, and he was the one I liked best.  Carton did grow on me quite a bit too, though.  I didn’t dislike the others; I just didn’t feel too invested in them.


Everything is very heavily foreshadowed.  This story didn’t hold many surprises, except for a few small ones, because the author telegraphed everything well in advance.  I was a little over halfway through the book when I finally put two and two together and predicted (correctly) how the book was going to end.  In fact, I felt a little silly for not realizing it at least a couple chapters sooner.  It’s possible that I subconsciously remembered it from 25 years ago, but the book never felt at all familiar to me as I read it.  Well, aside from the opening words anyway.  Despite knowing how things were going to end, I did get really caught up in the story and the emotion of what was happening in the later chapters. 


Ramblings about Annotations

Knowing I didn’t like this book as a teen, I was more nervous about reading it than I otherwise would have been, so I decided to get an annotated version.  I think this was the first time I’ve read anything annotated, and I had trouble finding the right balance.  I don’t normally skim when I read books.  If the words are there, I’m going to read them.  If my eyes glaze over and I don’t absorb them, I’ll probably go back and read them again.  So you might be able to imagine how I tackled the annotations at first.  I read every single one of them within the segment where they were presented.  In some of the introductory chapters, there were so many that I lost the flow of the story and had to go back and re-read the chapter afterward.  This may have contributed to my trouble getting into the story, but many of the annotations were very interesting, and I think more historically informative than the story itself, so I did want to read them.


On the other hand, the annotations were sometimes repetitive, and many of the terms that were explained were very obvious within the context and didn’t, in my opinion, need explaining. I guess younger teens and/or people who don’t read as much would appreciate them more.  Also, people with holes in their head.  The ones that gave historical context were the ones I enjoyed the most, when they weren’t repetitive.  For example, I got really, really tired of reading reminders that Dickens was using the title “Monseigneur” in a historically inappropriate manner.  I understood it the first time, really!


About halfway through the book, I started feeling really bogged down by annotations and I started to lose interest in them.  I finally managed to talk myself into skipping them, and I was glad I did.  I’m sure I missed out on other things of interest, but I had reached my limit.  I wasn’t even tempted to go back and skim through the ones I skipped after finishing the book.  If I read other annotated works, I’ll have to try different tactics to figure out what works best for me.  I think, as people have suggested, reading the story by itself and then going back to the annotations afterward will be the best course of action, with the occasional pause to read an annotation during my initial read if I see one tied to something that confused me.


Rambling Summary

Wow, that was a lot of rambling even for me!  I tend to have a rating in mind as I read a book, mentally adjusting it as my opinions change.  This book was no more than 3 stars for quite a while, but it grew on me and I mentally adjusted it to 3.5.  It wasn’t until I finished the book and reflected on how much I enjoyed the last few chapters and the way everything tied together that I realized I couldn’t give it less than 4.  Maybe I didn’t love it as much as many other people do, but I did appreciate it and I hope to give more of Dickens’ work a try someday.

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review 2017-01-04 02:48
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Audiobook)
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens,Simon Vance

Narrated by Simon Vance


If I were just rating this book based on high school memory, it would probably be four or five stars, but I found that this audio version didn’t always hold my attention. I’ll have to reread it in print at some point or maybe just re-listen to the audiobook because I remember this being a good story. It was still a decent story but I felt like I missed stuff.

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review 2016-10-19 03:48
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Books that require more thought while reading because of archaic language are at a bit of a disadvantage. They have to be more interesting than a more modern book in order to make me want to spend additional time and use additional brain cells on the book in question. Unfortunately, this one did not. Not until the end, at least.

I was bored most of the time and my mind wandered. I don't know if that's why it seemed choppy to me or if it's because the book itself is choppy. The plot might be interesting enough if i read it in a more modern tongue. I plan on reading the SparkNotes version for that reason.

I didn't really connect with any of the characters until a couple at the very end. Most of the time, individual characters didn't stand out to me and i didn't know who anyone was.

I could be persuaded to give this a chance at another time. Like The Lord of the Rings, i might enjoy it more if i took my time with it.

It reminded me a lot of The Count of Monte Cristo, especially at the beginning.


*Review written on August 10, 2014.*

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review 2016-01-18 19:50
A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Part of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, hosted by Books & Chocolate, for Category #1: 19th Century Classic.


I am amazingly glad that I did not have to read any Dickens for school, because that would have turned me off from classics in a millisecond. Fortunately, buddy reading this with a friend egged me on to finish the damn thing (ironic, had this been for school, I likely would have dnf'd it). And I'm glad I did, since the last third or so was quite good in terms of plot and characterization... but with many, many caveats...


The style of prose is UGH, NO, SHUT UP AND JUST TELL THE DAMN STORY CHARLES. Just because this is a classic, doesn't mean that I have to force myself to enjoy it and lull myself into a false sense of "omg, Dickens's style is dynamic and amazing!" Perhaps if I had I would have gotten more out of it, but that's just not my style--classic or not, if the prose doesn't captivate me in the first few pages, I have little hope for making it to the end.


The style just felt so.... anachronistic, and seemed more tailored and written in the American style of the time, rather than the British/European style (which I love). The American style is one that I hate deeply--I found myself comparing the writing of Tale to Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, which I had a very similar love-hate relationship with (the last third of that was excellent, but the style was terrible).


I couldn't get it out of my mind that Dickens was intentionally writing this in a more Americanized style to make this a hit in the States--and it must have worked, because it was apparently the most popular of his works in America.


Dickens's symbolism was also painfully obvious. He didn't try to hide the metaphors under other metaphors, or create any doubt that certain things weren't necessarily symbols, but just things that were discussed in detail as symbolistic red herrings. Everything was just OBVIOUS, there was no mystery to any of the symbols and it just made it almost juvenile in the way that Dickens assumed readers wouldn't be able to draw the parallels themselves.


He is also obsessed with foreheads... he focuses solely on many character's expressions through their foreheads, rather than through full facial or body expression. It's weird.


For all of the things I didn't like about this book (oh, did I mention that half the time it was never clear who was talking?) the overall plot of the story was quite interesting, and there were some fun characters. Not to mention Madame Defarge's knitting, which, as a knitter, was one of the main reasons I had to stick it out--it's practically canon to at least read the knitting parts. And the relationships (both romantic and friend/ally ones) forged between many of the main characters were actually ones I could get behind,

especially the switchero-sacrifice at the end.

(spoiler show)


In the end, I am glad I stuck it out and finished it, but at the same time, this was a bad first impression for me, and I'm not at all enthusiastic to start any of Dickens' other works that I have on my to-read list (The Old Curiosity Shop, Pickwick Papers, and the ultimate tome of Bleak House) (as a side note, if any of these are an antithesis to Tale's style, please let me know in the comments!!)


Honestly, I think I would have gotten more out of it had I just watched a Masterpiece version of this...

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