Thursday, June 16, 2011

#233: It Was the Best of Books...

I finally got around to reading two books from my favorite authors. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. I tried to get through Discontent first because it was the shorter of the two. Discontent was Steinbeck's last completed novel before he died. And I tried to get through it. I did. But, and I'm going to be frank here, it's not good. I love Steinbeck. I've read everything from Cup of Gold to The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights and Discontent is not his best. The people do not sound like people and none of the characters really grab you except for maybe Margie Young-Hunt and that's probably because you are waiting for a nude and/or sex scene from her that you know will not happen.

The story is about Ethan Allan Hawley who decides to make things better for his family by basically becoming as unscrupulous as everyone else in America. Steinbeck was really reaching in this novel you can tell. Steinbeck was focusing on how much America had changed after World War II and it had changed but unlike Steinbeck's previous novels, Discontent shoved the moral down our throat. All the dialogue seems hackneyed and unbelievable and while I admit that a lot of Steinbeck dialogue seems ingenuine and stilted, this novel seemed to use it in abundance. I stopped reading about halfway through.

However I forced myself to read and finish A Tale of Two Cities because you constantly hear that it is the best of Dickens' books and if often quoted and assigned in high school. People can typically quote from Two Cities without ever having read it.  It was good. I don't consider it the best. Bleak House is still my favorite and I even consider the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood to be better but I can see how Two Cities is constantly lauded.

The novel is historical fiction and tells the story of Doctor Manette who is released from the Bastille and reunited with his daughter who becomes entangled in a love triangle with Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. The characters soon get caught up in the French Revolution and, as with all love triangles, only one may get the girl. It took awhile for me to get into Two Cities but once I got the Revolution part, the book really sped up and seemed to take no time at all to finish. My only problem with this book, as well as any other book by Dickens is he cannot write a love story. It doesn't seem real, it doesn't capture your imagination and it is definitely not romantic. This may be because Dickens was not romantic to his wife, Catherine, who he blamed his ten children on and his subsequent financial worries. Dickens was, probably, more romantic to the young woman he had started dating shortly before begin Two Cities, Ellen Ternan and it is clear Lucie Manette is based on young Ellen.

Out of these two books, A Tale of Two Cities is definitely the better investment of the two. But I would recommend Bleak House and East of Eden over either of these tomes.

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