Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Review

Dombey and SonDombey and Son by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

noun: dated literary
a substitute, especially for a medicine or drug.
“The head was followed by a perfect desert of chin, and by a shirt-collar and neckerchief, and by a dreadnought pilot-coat, and by a pair of dreadnought pilot-trousers, whereof the waistband was so very broad and high, that it became a succedaneum for a waistcoat: being ornamented near the wearer’s breast-bone with some massive wooden buttons, like backgammon men. As the lower portions of these pantaloons became revealed, Bunsby stood confessed; his hands in their pockets, which were of vast size; and his gaze directed, not to Captain Cuttle or the ladies, but the mast-head.”

noun: a feeling of unease or embarrassment; awkwardness.
synonyms: embarrassment, unease, uneasiness, awkwardness, discomfort, discomposure
"Shame, disappointment, and discomfiture gnawed at his heart; a constant apprehension of being overtaken, or met—for he was groundlessly afraid even of travellers, who came towards him by the way he was going—oppressed him heavily. The returned unweakened in the day. The monotonous ringing of the bells and tramping of the horses; the monotony of his anxiety, and useless rage; the monotonous wheel of fear, regret, and passion, he kept turning round and round; made the journey like a vision, in which nothing was quite real but his own torment."

Some of Dickens most vivid language. It flows effortlessly from realism to impressionism, from muddy, gritty details to allegory and free association of universal truths and the indifference of the glory of the rising sun to the misery of our maddening lives. It's similar in theme to Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" except instead of romance the story is told through the experience of a shipping magnate whose excessive pride takes him from extreme wealth, wife, and children to bankruptcy, isolation, and near death. And like Jane Austen's novel Dickens' Dombey is redeemed by the love and forgiveness of a strong woman.

Reading Dombey and Son is like sitting down to a rich dinner; the language and detail of emotions is delicious and amazing. And Dickens never seemed to grow tired of it and rush the ending as some authors do, but kept up the pace of brilliance through each of about four endings while he wraps up all of the story lines and characters he's introduced.

"...when I thought so much of all the causes that had made me what I was, I needed to have allowed more for the causes that had made him what he was. I will try, then, to forgive him his share of blame. Let him try to forgive me mine!”

My main critique, and the reason I took so long to finish, is that most chapters detail the actions and motivations of the members of the Dombey household and almost everything happens within London. As beautiful as it's written I kept hoping the action would switch to one of the other characters who's lost at sea. He eventually finds his way back, but the details of how or his adventures doing so are not included. If Herman Melville would've been enlisted to step in and give us exploits of our boy Walter on the high seas that would have been fun indeed.

But it's a great book and worthwhile for any Dickens fan to read. I found myself newly amazed at Dickens' insights into the human heart and the motivations of women and men. In this age of the fast words found in Twitter, texts, and Facebook clickbait sinking one's teeth into a full course reading rich in all the colors of the English language is food for the soul.

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