4 star review, originally posted here on December 22, 2021.
Hey, this Dickens guy can write.
Just in case you didn’t know.
I’ve been trying to read more classics recently, and naturally I find myself grappling with the question of what allowances we make for the author and the characters based on the time period in which it was written. This concept was front and center as I slogged my way through Robinson Crusoe, an arrogant, entitled, self-centered, straight, cis white, protestant man with no respect for anyone besides himself. “But the time in which it was written!” cried the defenders. “That was totally fine at the time!”
In Great Expectations, we again have an arrogant, entitled white male douchebag as our lead. But unlike in Robison Crusoe, the author makes it pretty clear that this kid’s a dick who has some learning to do. I know this classic was written a century after Crusoe, but still… people and times don’t change THAT much in 100 years. Empathy DID exist in the olden days! Dickens does a fantastic job bringing us along on Pip’s adventures in growing-the-fuck up, and we’re rubbing our temples the whole way. I was constantly repressing exclamations the whole way through.
“Dammit, Pip! Stop chasing the spoiled bitch just cuz she’s hot!”
“Dammit, Pip! Joe is ten times the man you’ll ever be!”
“Dammit, Pip! Learn how to budget for pete’s sake!”
I have many more, but there are too many spoilers here. Point is, I practically felt Dickens winking at me from the page. Like every time Pip did or thought something stupid, Dickens is at my elbow saying “I know, right?” through a grin. I don’t think it’s too big a spoiler to say that, eventually, after many many twists and turns and lessons learned, Pip eventually grows the fuck up. Something that Robinson Crusoe never did.
I LOVED the writing in this book. It was so immersive and frequently funny. I will say, though, that things started to really drag for me towards the end. There is one SUPER BIG REVEAL (that unfortunately I had spoilered for me, so I have no idea if I would have seen it coming otherwise), and after that we’re just setting about tying up all of our loose ends. Plenty of these loose-end-tyings (fake word?) were still pretty damn good. One of them had me totally FREAKING OUT. But it could have just been chopped down to be a bit tighter, frankly.