Bleak House

I have a To-Be-Read pile.

That means that I have a long list of all the books I am supposed to read. In theory, they are organized in order according to when I bought them. The older books are read first and the books I impulse buy at various thrift stores, Barnes and Noble outlets, or order off of Amazon have to wait until the ones I bought two years ago have had their turn.

In theory, this system works.

In theory.

However, every once in a while (Okay, every single time I buy books) I find a book that I simply cannot resist.

An especially fat, wonderful book that absolutely begs me to slip between the pages and lose myself in the magic of its story.

I am not known for being particularly good at refusing these pleas. So my To-Be-Read pile grows longer and books that I bought three years ago and still very much intend to read continue to wait their turn.

I’ll get around to them.


I bought one such book a few weeks ago, right after my birthday. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, had always seemed a rather dry and overly long story that didn’t appeal to me much when I saw it in the bookstore. On a whim, I bought it, thinking I would give it a chance to turn out better than I anticipated.

Or be dry as dust.

Either way.

To my surprise, it was one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Bleak House is the chronicle of the ill-fated Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, a court case revolving around a disputed will that has dragged on for decades, sucking the money and the life out of its victims. The story begins by introducing us to a sweet, even-tempered child of uncertain lineage. Esther Summerson. She is brought to Bleak House by its master and her guardian, John Jarndyce, a man who has been so plagued by the court case that he has sworn off of it entirely, declaring it nothing but a blight on his family’s name. When he welcomes Esther to Bleak House, he introduces her to two other relations of his, both orphaned and left in his care. Richard and Ada.

Between the three of them, Bleak House is transformed into a home filled with light and laughter. The affection between them grows, and Esther is delighted when she detects something more than friendship between Ada and Richard.

But Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and the promise of a possible fortune at his fingertips, draws Richard away from the happy family, and the poison of the law courts changes him more than Esther or Ada would have ever anticipated.

Bleak House is a whirlwind of fascinating characters, gorgeous imagery, and intriguing mysteries. This was one of only a few books in my lifetime that has made me shut the book so that I could calm down. It was charming, it was witty, and it was so intriguing with its mysteries, scandals, and twisted relationships that I didn’t at all mind its enormous size. Truly one of Charles Dickens’ greatest works, and one that I will be recommending to people for years to come.

“Do you know the relief that my disappearance will be? Have you forgotten the stain and blot upon this place, and where it is, and who it is?”

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