Bleak House – Charles Dickens

Posted 9 January, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments

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Title: Bleak House
Author: Charles Dickens
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: 1852-53 Pages: 914
Audio Duration: 33 hours; 2 min
Genre: Fiction (Classic)
Rating: 4/5

In Short: Does anyone really understand Jarndyce and Jarndyce? Well anyway, there is a lawsuit that doesn’t seem to have any imminent resolution but it still greatly affects Esther (the sometime narrator) and Ada and Richard. Thrown into the mix is Lady Dedlock who has a secret she’s trying to protect and Mr. Smallweed who thinks you are a Brimstone Beast. Among hundreds of other characters and storylines. #youdontcomehereforthesummary

Why I read it: I originally purchased it for Amanda’s readalong two years ago but finally read it when Jenny Girl hosted a readalong (or as I call it, #bleakalong). It’s also on my Classics Club list. Yay me.

[Spoil Free] Thoughts in General:

I listened to and read Bleak House but I really struggled with the audio because of the sheer number of characters, the babbling of Dickens, and my inability to pay attention for more than five minutes. This was no fault of Simon Vance (or maybe it was Mr. Dreamy Voice), but it did cause me a lot of re-reading and even some re-listening as well. In fact, I bet when the amount of time spent on this one is put together I read this one twice. There may have even been some parts that I experienced three times! While this didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the book, it did affect my frustration and attention—and it definitely did hinder my ability to glean all the details (the jacket cover tells you there is a murder mystery but Care had to tell me who dunnit because I somehow missed all mention of it).

All that said, there was a great deal that I enjoyed about Bleak House. It’s been several years since I’ve read a Dickens novel (nevermind A Christmas Carol last year) and I forgot how much I enjoy his sly and biting sense of humor. And his descriptions—the descriptions of the city and the weather were so rich in Bleak House. Sometimes I wanted to scream “I GET IT—It’s Foggy! And people are poor!” but for the most part I appreciated the heavy descriptions and detail. Though this novel could be a few several hundred pages shorter and a few characters less if you asked me.

And some randomness [which aren’t spoilers but you probably won’t get if you haven’t read the book]…

I loved Grandpa Smallweed and Simon Vance narrated him perfectly. He was always throwing his granddaughter Judy at his wife—the Brimstone Beast. Sometimes I was listening and it was all “blah blah blah BRIMSTONE BEAST” and I loved it…until I realized I had no idea what that “blah blah blah” was.

Mr. Jarndyce has a Growlery in his home. It’s where he can go read when he’s grumpy. I totally need a Growlery.

Esther! Get a hold of yourself little lady! The self-sacrificing about did me in and I’m glad that some people finally came to their senses at the end of the novel.

Poor Mr. Guppy. Not really but wow was he a piece of work! The last proposal of his!

For a novel that progresses at snail’s pace, there are a lot of strange things that happen in the end during the wrap-up. And such bleak things!

Did I mention that we could have done with about half the characters? Seriously—every chapter a new guy (or lady)?

But besides the length and my inability to switch seamlessly between audio and paper, I thoroughly enjoyed Bleak House and look forward to my next Dickens read. One day… I think next up is Oliver Twist. One day…

Bottom Line: If you want to experience Dickens, I wouldn’t start here. Read Great Expectations instead! But if you have a few Dickens books under your belt, by all means! It was a fun read but it was long and there were many many many many characters.
A Note on the Audio: Dear Simon Vance – you have a wonderfully luxurious voice and I loved hearing you read Dickens. But your melodious and dreamy voice also allowed me to zone out until I heard Grandfather Smallweed calling someone a Brimstone Beast. I definitely recommend Simon Vance as narrator for Bleak House—his character inflections are absolutely perfect—but for me reading was the number one choice if I had the time.

Big thanks to Jenny Girl for hosting and for the happy folks who participated in the Bleakalong.

Have you read this one? Do you have a favorite Dickens?

17 Responses to “Bleak House – Charles Dickens”

  1. Glad you liked it when all is said and done, you brimstone beast. I’m reading the latest Kate Atkinson at the moment, and a character talks about wanting a growlery in his new house. And I got the reference! Yay for classics! :)

  2. I’m really looking forward to reading Bleak House this year. I’ll probably get to it sometime in the spring. I can’t imagine listening to Dickens in audio form, though. The large number of characters in any of his stories would be hard to keep up with if I weren’t actually reading their names, I think.

  3. Now I’m thinking about how I kinda miss reading classics like Dickens. Maybe I’ll be a good little English major holding girl and read Oliver Twist this year. Oliver Twist-athon? ;)

  4. I have as little desire to read this I have have the desire to run head first into a brick wall. I enjoyed Christmas Carol, but if I read another Dickens (that’s IF) then it’ll be Oliver Twist or Great Expectations.


  5. I also need a growlery. I loved that part and Jarndyce himself. Except when he turned creepy, although it was done with the best intentions.
    i will definitely read another Dickens with you, but you choose which one. I’ll host. I don’t mind :)

  6. How did I miss this?! May I ask for personal pointers – oh pshaw – MY BAD. I’m sorry I missed this. Well done. I’m such a horrible blog visitor………..

  7. I definitely think this is a 3rd or 4th Dickens to pick up. You need an appreciation of him and his social views to fully understand why he put a lot of the things in this novel that he did. Like Melissa, my all time fave is and always will be David Copperfield with Great Expectations as a close second and this one third!

  8. Les

    I read Great Expectations several years ago and enjoyed it, but not as much as A Tale of Two Cities (which I read in high school, so it’s been well over 30 years!). Hmmm, might be time for a re-read of A Tale of Two Cities…

  9. When I folding it up and put it away it occurred to me why it was so long; Dickens wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote waiting for some kind of reasonably decent story to open up, but when it never did he just clamped some sappy, stereotypic ending to it and called it done. I was, by far, the most nothing of a story I have ever read. Oops, gotta throw “The Shipping News” in there, too, but at least that one didn’t take 1000 pages to evolve into nothing.