“As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.  The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.  From the character and turn of the inscription, ‘Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sicky.”  – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, p. 1

My parents divorced when I was young, and I visited my father on alternate weekends.  I slept on the couch at my father’s, and the few possessions I left there were kept in a laundry room cupboard.  He did not have cable television, but he had a VCR and an acre of land with many trees to sit under and read.  Consequently, I watched one movie and read one book over and over.  There were three movies I could watch, but I found The Color Purple boring and Candyman too frightening for repeated viewings.  Consequently, I came to treasure Beauty and the Beast and it remains one of my favorite movies even now.

The book I read again and again was a children’s abridged and illustrated version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  I was rather fond of it as well, but never sought out the unabridged version.

This past Christmas, however, audible offered a free recording of it to members, and I downloaded it without much thought.  It was magnificient.  It was the same story I loved as a child, but all dressed up with added description and a wonderful performance.

So it was with, well.. great expectations that I turned to Great Expectations.  I downloaded an audio version of it, performed by one of my favorite readers: Simon Vance (who I discovered while listening to [marvelous] Frankenstein).

The story: Orphaned Pip, living with his sister and his brother-in-law Joe (who treats him as a treasured friend), seems destined to become a blacksmith.  His childhood is relatively eventful: he meets and assists an escaped convict; he spends time at a rich woman’s house playing with her adopted child (Estella, who he quickly falls in love with).  Then in the years of his apprenticeship, an unknown benefactor offers him wealth, but he must move to London and become an educated gentleman as his part of the bargain.  He sets out to London quickly, makes new friends and explores new opportunities, all while trying to woo Estella and discover the truth behind his newfound wealth.

Sounds promising.  The beginning went swimmingly.  I was fond of Pip, curious about the convict, admired Joe.  But then Pip moves to London, and it all changes.   For about 12 hours of the 16 hour audiobook, Pip is rather unlikeable; Joe and the convict are hardly present.  The only truly likeable character who plays a role in the middle of the book (Mr. Wemmick) only appears, it seems, when needed to swiftly furthur the plot.

You’ve all heard, I’m sure, that Mr. Dickens was paid by the word.  You’ve all heard this used to explain why his books are so mightily long.  Personally, though I believed the first bit, I couldn’t believe that any self-respecting author would purposefully draw out a decent story for more money.  I thought, surely, his books are only so long because he has so much to say.  Or because his stories are so intricate, his characters so elaborate, that this length is required.  Now, though, I’m not so sure.

The beginning masterfully draws the reader in.  The ending leaves the reader with a feeling of justice and satisfaction (when considered separate from the middle).  But in the middle, it all falls apart.  It is no pleasure to read.  It drags the reader through the actions and introspection of an unlikeable, ungrateful brat who recognizes his mistakes as he makes them, makes them anyway, then laments, and repeats.  Dickens can do better.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen it in this very book.

I give it 3 of 5 stars.  Good beginning, good ending, good story.  Terribly plodding middle.  I will try another Dickens, but it’ll be awhile.

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