Leafin’ Through: Books for autumn, part 1 – Bleak House
What better way to start off my blog than by writing a trio of articles straddling two ever-pertinent delights: books and autumn! This post and the next two in the series were inspired by Jane Bradley’s Favourite Autumn Reads post over at the For Book’s Sake site. Reading in autumn is an ideal pursuit: indoors, with the heating on, mug of coffee. Maybe you’ve read your customary autumn stash time and time again, and you want something new. Hopefully, my top three choices – blending classic fiction, American gothic and, er, theatre – will give you some inspiration (and perhaps a new favourite).
For a little bit of reading music I’ve given you Paloma Faith’s new single. I can’t help but feel autumnal when I hear it, mainly because it’s used on the new John Lewis advert,, which has a lot of golds and browns in the palette. Coupled with the time of year it’s being shown on TV, the ad and the song are really nice little warmers to take the bite off the weather.
First Leafin’ Through choice: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.
I adore this book. Well-meaning Esther ends up discovering some alarming family connections, whilst butter-wouldn’t-melt friends Richard and Ada fall in love and eventually (in a classic dose of Dickensian misfortune) suffer from Richard’s career indeciveness, and guardian John Jarndyce despairs over a behemoth of a law case and experiences decidedly non-fatherly attitudes towards young Esther. Dickens’s underlying purpose is to critique the law and its tedious, exhausting practices but there’s so much more. There’s smallpox! There’s a crazy bird lady! There’s (and this is the best) spontaneous combustion!
But there are two main reasons why this ends up at prime position in my selection:
I: The descriptions of landscape and scenery are phenomenal. I won’t spoil them for you, as they’re worth discovering for yourself. Look out for the infamous opening about London, Tom-All-Alone’s, and the grounds of the Deadlock estate in particular. They will make you curl up in the corner of the sofa feeling both slightly warmer for being indoors in a rainstorm, and very grateful for living in modern times. They’re also Dickensian prose as its finest.
II: The characters. Come on now, you knew that one. You may only have read a single Dickens work in your life, but you will have seen the insanely good way that Dickens names and enlivens his cast. Ben Jonson was doing the name-personality link way back when, but Dickens took it to incredible heights, and I think Bleak House is where he comes into his own. The sheer range of characters laid out before the reader means that you will end up with three or four favourites.
There are flaws, of course, depending on what you favour in your books. Esther can become gratingly selfless, and the subplot between her and young failing Casanova Guppy might be ludicrous for some (I really love it, actually). But not only is Bleak House wonderful cold weather reading material, the book itself is a weighty chunk that will give you a ridiculously large sense of satisfaction. Probably the Dickensian equivalent to a whole box of cheese and biscuits and a novelty mug-sized serving of cocoa to yourself. Definitely worth a purchase is the BBC adaptation on DVD, for some extremely entertaining autumn evenings.
Amazon UK retails Bleak House at £1.99 for paperback and free (free!) on Kindle, here.
ETA: For further celebration, elaboration and deliberation on Tom-All-Alone’s, I recommended getting a copy of Lynn Shepherd’s novel of the same name, on Kindle for under £5.
On Monday, I will be back with my second choice – a complete departure from Dickens, I can assure you!