intense sensations

Posts Tagged ‘Dickens

The Mystery of Edwin Drood  The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know what made me buy this book and start reading it. The first few pages were torture. I knew the novel was unfinished. At least it would be short. But why even bother at all?

Then gradually there appeared light in the murk. Uncle and nephew, Jack and Eddy, got out their nuts and started to talk about Pussy.

No one does dialogue like Dickens. It is crisp, clear, entertaining and lifelike. Even the way the men crack their nuts adds to the drama.

Dickens is completely unafraid of sentiment. He allows the two men to be as affectionate with each other as two lovers.

When Pussy comes into the story it gets even better. Everyone is in love with her. It’s sickening but it’s also exciting. I love this kind of melodrama.

The way John Jasper stares at Pussy when she is playing the piano is fantastic. You remember it throughout all that follows and so does she. She especially remembers it many months later in Chapter 19 when John/Jack is staring at her again, dressed in mourning for the missing Eddy.

At times Dickens can be so verbose that it’s hard to catch his meaning but when he is describing passion his sentences are models of clarity. This chapter is called Shadow in the Sundial and the image, like so much that Dickens writes, sticks forever in your mind:

This time he does not touch her. But his face looks so wicked and menacing, as he stands leaning against the sundial – setting, as it were, his black mark upon the very face of day – that her flight is arrested by horror as she looks at him.

What makes Dickens’s writing so thrilling is that he captures the passion of the moment in the very rhythm of his sentences. He isn’t afraid of dramatic gestures.

“There is my fidelity to my dear boy after death. Tread upon it!”

With an action of his hands, as though he cast down something precious.

“There is the inexpiable offence against my adoration of you. Spurn it!”

With a similar action.

“There are my labours in the cause of a just vengeance for six toiling months. Crush them!”

The scene builds and builds like a symphonic poem till Pussy rushes away to her room and faints half way up the stairs.

There is a masterful touch at the end:

A thunderstorm is coming on, the maids say, and the hot and stifling air has overset the pretty dear; no wonder; they have felt their own knees all of a tremble all day long.

My knees were also all of a tremble and my heart all of a flutter while I read, and read, and read.

Two semi-colons in a single sentence, by the way! There is a man who is not afraid to flout convention.

The ending is, of course, abrupt and dizzying. It leaves you tottering on the edge of a precipice. My imagination was teeming with possibilities. I read a few theories about how the story might have been meant to go on but I wasn’t satisfied by any of them. I couldn’t help feeling that Dickens’s imagination was just too ingenious, too inventive and too mischievous to be second-guessed by even the most creative of scholars.

So for stimulating my imagination, this was the best book by far that I have read this year.

'Salem's Lot‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When asked which of his novels he thought would last Stephen King said The Shining, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. The ‘S’ novels.

I think they’ll all last because Stephen King has the knack of getting inside people’s lives and putting them on the page.

Stephen King reminds me a lot of Dickens without being as good. While Dickens can skewer a character in a single phrase, Stephen King recreates them with layer upon layer of trivial details. You might not like his characters but you can see them in your mind’s eye and in that respect they are real.

Another thing Stephen King does well is to vary the rhythm and syntax of his sentences, which means his prose is relatively free from noticeable mannerisms and you can read it for a long time without getting tired. This is the mark of a writer who has read and written a lot. It’s something the reader appreciates only subconsciously. Although his books are long, they are very readable. He doesn’t talk down to his audience. Some of the passages in this books are quite poetic and his vocabulary is very rich. But his sentences are elegantly constructed and the details he notices and presents are very pertinent.

It took me a while to appreciate how deeply literate Stephen King is. I am not a big fan of his but I admire his craftsmanship and I always find his books pleasurable to read. I have been drawn to his books more and more recently, since I have begun to write for publication. I think all writers can learn a lot from him, not so much from his book On Writing as from the novels themselves.

If I were being totally fair, I suppose I should give this 5 stars. But since he is not quite as good as Dickens and this is probably not his best book, I’ll give it only 3. Sorry, SK, but I don’t think you need a leg up from me.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits


Books by Vanessa Wu

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