WIROB: In Which I Give Up On Bleak House

I recognize that there’s likely some irony in the juxtaposition of my SleuthSayers post end of last week and my column for the Washington Independent Review of Books kicking off the new week: the first complaining about how some people can’t appreciate a masterpiece when they see it and the second talking about how I finally had to give up on reading Bleak House because….

Well, here’s a quick excerpt:

A couple of years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I’d tried and failed to read the novel before, but suddenly realizing that it had exactly 365 chapters, I planned this time to read one chapter a day — pacing myself toward the end….

At the start of this year, I made a similar resolution with Dickens’ Bleak House — in this case, breaking it down to a chapter every five days. Many great things are to be said for the novel: characters rich in detail, atmospheric settings, and plot aplenty. And, yet, by mid-March, I’d given it up completely.

I never found myself eager to return to each new chapter and always had to gear up every time with some review of what had happened in the previous chapters. As for the characters and their relationships? No matter how rich they were in individual scenes, I couldn’t keep track of them all.

(In Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, Tim Federle proposes a drinking game: “Chug your ale each time Dickens introduces a new character…” Maybe that would’ve helped.)

The full column features insights from fellow writers Patricia Abbott and Steph Post—and thanks again to each of them for quick responses to my questions last week!

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