It was the best of times and it was the worst of times
My love affair with Dickens started when I read Great Expectations five years ago. It was the first piece of classic literature I’ve read that was not written by Jane Austen. I’m almost ashamed to say that I was only driven to read it after watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars where a character was quoting a line from the book.
Up until that point I’ve only ever associated Dickens with Scrooge and A Christmas Carol. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading his extensive catalog of works to find that Mr. Dickens is not only observant, witty and blessed with a superb sense of comedic timing, he is also – in my opinion – the most underrated romance writer ever known to man.
Every book of his, including the one I’m reviewing now, is a love story in one form or another. First of all, his book is very clearly a love letter for the city of London – he describes the city so faithfully and evocatively that you can almost see the fog over St Paul, feel the spattering of rain, and smell the odours coming from both the river Thames and the sea of London’s inhabitants.
Every book is a story of a loving family: in this one, the history of the French Revolution is distilled to its most basic component as Dickens tells it through the eyes of the Manette family. With them we feel the dangers of the Reign of Terror and the ominous presence of La Guillotine, and through their experiences, we see the effects of years and years of oppression and how it can bring out the worst in people.
The best thing about a Dickens book, though, is that always, ALWAYS, it is a celebratory tale of unrequited love, two words that I never thought I would ever put together in one sentence. There is no reason to celebrate loving someone knowing all the while that that love can never be returned. But in every book, Dickens manages to turn something so utterly pathetic into something so triumphant, and never is that more true than in the character of Sydney Carlton.
Almost like a foreshadowing of future events, Dickens made Sydney Carlton an almost inconspicuous character for most of the book, weaving in and out of scenes like a side note, like a bit player waiting in the wings before he has to take center stage in life’s pivotal scene.
His love for the married Lucie is so all-encompassing that he willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sake. In doing so, he takes the meaning of the words friend zone to a whole new level. HONESTLY.
He is a dissolute character who’s never done anything useful in his life but I promise you, you will find yourself cherishing this character long after you read the last couple of lines in this book, which comprises the most haunting words I’ve ever read in my life.
Finally, I just want to say this. I struggled all this week to find a reason for doing the things that I do. I’ve felt discouraged about people in general to the point where I ask myself why I should even bother. In a weird way, finishing this book gave me the answers I so badly needed.
It is not a failing to care too much for other people, to want to help them out to the best of your ability: it is a STRENGTH. And you do these things knowing they won’t always be appreciated and nor can you expect they’ll do the same for you; the point is to do them anyway.
A Tale of Two Cities is proof positive that even in the worst of times, there are still people capable of the best of things. And therein lies the hope.
4 out of 5 stars!