#Victober Update - The Pickwick Papers

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The Pickwick Papers
Charles Dickens
Published 1837
#Victober Readathon

The Pickwick Papers is Dickens' first novel and widely regarded as one of the major classics of comic writing in English. Originally serialised in monthly instalments, it quickly became a huge popular success with sales reaching 40,000 by the final part.

From the hallowed turf of Dingley Dell Cricket Club to the unholy fracas of the Eatanswill election, via the Fleet debtor’s prison, characters & incidents sprang to life from Dickens’s pen, to form an enduringly popular work of ebullient humour & literary invention.

In the century and a half since its first appearance, the characters of Mr Pickwick, Sam Weller and the whole of the Pickwickian crew have entered the consciousness of all who love English literature in general, and the works of Dickens in particular.

It's taken me ages to write this review. I finished the book over a week ago - but it turns out reviewing Dickens is even harder than reading him.

That said, this was the complete opposite of what I was expecting. It was utterly different to what I thought I was opening up - the only thing I got right is that it's long. 900 pages, to be exact. But it's not the dull, bleak, depressing book I was waiting for - instead, it's light-hearted, funny and a joy to read.

This is Dickens' first book - definitely one of his most neglected, but certainly not bad. It follows the middle class Pickwick club travelling all over the country, getting themselves into all kinds of scrapes and situations. It never take itself seriously, and as soon as you get over the (dated) writing style the whole experience become... enjoyable.

There's some parts, even today, that I found pretty funny. Laugh out loud, snort tea through your nose, kind of funny. It's slapstick and light-hearted - but I never thought it got too carried away. Originally published in 19 separate episodes, and then compiled into a single novel, there are some chapters that are a little drier than others. However, the book always somehow manages to pick itself back up and continue to delight.

I think this is perfect if you want to get a foothold into the Dickens novels. It really could be called a collection of short stories - it almost is. The plot jumps around from place to place, and is often interspersed with stories narrated by minor characters (of which there are many). It's not the stereotypical Dickens, which I found slightly disappointing, but I found reading this useful to get used to his style before moving on to some of his chunkier works.

I didn't find the story as well-written as some of the later novels, and somehow I didn't feel an urge to want to finish the story quite like I do with some of his later books. That said, though, it's full of brilliant characters from start to finish and provides a wonderful first step into the world of Dickens.

Have you read any Dickens?

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Victober Reading List

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Victober. Yes, that's right. An October full of Victorian fiction. It's no secret that I've been reading a lot of classics recently, but so far I've stayed fairly in my comfort zone i.e. anything written after Hitler. I'm not planning to read lots of books this October - Dickens takes quite a while to get through, and I enjoy taking my time with him. So, in the month before Donald Trump takes power like he almost certainly will and we're-all-really-fucking-screwed, here's what I'm hoping to read:

The Pickwick Papers

Dickens. YES. The master of English. I've been plodding through this ol' beast for the last month and am still only half way through. Admittedly I have been taking a break every 150 pages and reading something a little... easier. I think that's how Dickens should be read. We wouldn't want a Dickens overdose, now, would we?

Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying it. In fact, I'm in love. I've never read any Dickens before, so this is all completely new to me.  It's funny, something I didn't think I'd be saying about Dickens, and really heart warming.  It's full of slapstick comedy that really wouldn't seem out of place in a modern sitcom, and does have some laugh out loud moment. It's pure genius - but pretty hard going. Will I finish it by November? We'll see. *insert dramatic cliff-hanger here*

The Time Machine

HG Wells is a little different from Dickens. I watched a really interesting BBC documentary on Wells' life (you can see it here), which got me excited enough to read this book. That link will probably only work if you're in the UK, by the way. And you'll also only find it interesting if you're weird and have some kind of book obsession. Like I totally haven't.

Anyway, I haven't read any of Wells' stuff before. If I like this I'll probably read War of the Worlds and some more of his lesser-known stuff too. I'm pretty excited to read this, as it's often called the father of science fiction (even though I'm not the biggest fan of the genre XD).

Wuthering Heights

Ah, where would we be without Jane Austen? I mean Jane Eyre. Or do I mean Emile Bronte? Nick Clegg? Mr Bump? OK, I don't know my Austen from my Bronte. My reading of this type of thing/genre is mainly restricted to Agnes Grey (which I love) and Pride and Prejudice (which I love more). But hopefully that will change with. Admittedly I'm really looking forward to reading this one, and also reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell if I get the time, who was one of the Bronte's main biographers at the time.

Are you taking part in Victober? What's on your October TBR?

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Blunt and Better Than the BBC Adaption - The Secret Agent Review

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I've finally gotten around to reading this - I got it for birthday a couple of years ago off one of my mother's friends who I had previously thought had forgotten my existence. I was spurred into action when I saw it had been adapted by the BBC and recorded the series whilst it was on, content in the knowledge that I could read the book and then binge the series.

First of all I'd like to say - don't judge the book the recent adaption, if you're one of the few unlucky ones who actually bothered to watch it. Judging this book by the adaption is like judging a restaurant's quality by the taste of the dog shit outside the door. I mean, I think it's pretty brave trying to adapt it at all - when you're reading it, it doesn't exactly seem like the type of thing you'd want to spend of a Sunday evening - but I still thought it could have been better.

Secondly, bear with it. The book appears quite dense at first - I've found that with all of Conrad's books. His writing... it's not exactly the most readable stuff. It's like a wet sponge, it's heavy and at times seems thicker than a UKIP supporter. At the start it's like trying to piss treacle. There are very few natural breaks, chapters are long, and sentences are pretty long winded. There's no point trying to read this quickly; I reckon your best bet is to just go with the flow, and reread anything you don't follow before you move on. His writing is very blunt - he doesn't bother with elaborate descriptions - but as you go on and you get used to the style, it gets easier.

There's a certain quality about his writing that is brilliant. It's blunt, it's unassuming - it's not elaborately decorated. Conrad has an ability to create monsters. Mr Verloc is a monster, almost certainly - and the way Conrad manages that is magical. He really manages to create the most human monsters - not like the fake villains of today, he manages to search the soul and make someone despicable - but also like you or me. His writing - it's full of intrigue - a little confusing at time, I've had to go back and reread a couple of sections, but the full force of how epic the novel is doesn't really hit you until you've finished it.

Mr Verloc's first name is also Adolf. Yes, Adolf. That's how you can tell this book was written before the 1930s (1907, if you were wondering. You weren't? Oh fuck off.). It follows the story of Mr Verloc, a secret agent (who would've guessed?) for an unknown embassy, given the task of blowing up the Greenwich clock tower. It appears so simple, but when you get into it, the book unfolds into something so much more complicated.

I've read a couple of Joseph Conrad's recently - Lord Jim is by far my favourite. I think comparing this novel to his others - it's definitely not as good. But still worth reading. He paints a really interesting picture of intrigue and suspense throughout the novel - and it seems to flash by. It's a short read - made to seem longer by the thickness of the pages in my edition. It's not the best Conrad, but perhaps one of the better ones to start with if you're just getting going with his (17) books.
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