Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

I have discrepancies with this particular edition of the book, which I'll address in a moment. That particular score up there is for the story, and not necessarily this particular edition.

Moving on...

A scathing, humanist criticism of the industrial age in northern England and the mass poverty that consumed it, Hard Time takes an interesting point of view in the debate and doesn't necessarily humanize or vilify either side of the equation. Sure, there are baddies and flat out jerks, but they fall on both sides. Ultimately, we, as the reader, are forced to see the good and the bad in everyone. Because of his life on both sides of the equation, it makes sense that Dickens could have seen the good and bad of both sides. I know it seems like I'm harping on the fact that he captures the ups and downs of both realities so well, but damn, the guy is an acknowledged master for a reason.

As for the story, it's a twisting, roundabout suspense in a way. Sure, there's no nail biting moments, but it will be a quick read for most folks, as the story moves quickly and there's not much time for meditations on particular nuances. Sure, it's Victorian literature, but take away some of the period references and traditional speech and it would be hard to tell.

Truly, as this is the first Dickens novel I've read, I see none of the overt schmaltz and sentimentality that he is so often criticized for in this book. The numerous characters are all very distinct, the development is unarguably well thought out and the story is downright engaging. As this was my first Dickens book, I chose it because it's not one of his more well-known classics (on the level of Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities or A Christmas Carol — though I certainly would like to get to those now). I figured, if I liked one of his second tier works, I would definitely like his more recognized works. And truly, if Hard Times is considered second tier, I am in for some serious masterpieces.

Now, as for this particular Barnes and Noble Classics edition, I must assign a much different rating:

The footnotes and endnotes by Karen Odden are condescending and, in the case of one of the endnotes, spoils a major plot twist roughly one-third of the story before the twist actually happens. I would've been much happier reading through the book without all the completely superfluous extra little bits about allusions to the bible and plot spoilers. As they were brief interruptions, I can overlook them. But if I were ever to reread the book (which is quite likely), I will be skipping all of Ms. Odden's additions.

Overall though, fantastic stuff.


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