I can’t say that my expectations were all that great going into this book. If anything I had a bit of trepidation as I had heard that it was kind of slow going, and my only knowledge of the story was based on the 1998 film version, which had a pretty good sound track if I remember correctly, but what a pleasant surprise this was.
The only other Dickens novel I’d ever read was A Christmas Carol and just like it Great Expectations has vivid characters and explores different aspects of the human condition. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher:
In an overgrown churchyard, a grizzled convict springs upon an orphan named Pip. The convict terrifies the young boy and threatens to kill him unless Pip helps further his escape. Later, Pip finds himself in the ruined garden where he meets the bitter and crazy Miss Havisham and her foster child Estella, with whom he immediately falls in love. After a secret benefactor gives him a fortune, Pip moves to London, where he cultivates great expectations for a life which would allow him to discard his impoverished beginnings and socialize with the idle upper class. As Pip struggles to become a gentleman and is tormented endlessly by the beautiful Estella, he slowly learns the truth about himself and his illusions.
I enjoyed the beginning and as I was able to devote quite a bit of time to the book when I first started it, it felt like the story was flying by. With such short chapters that left you wondering what was next, it was easy to keep going. I liked Pip but my interest was really piqued with the appearance of Miss Havisham. What a fantastic character and one who I wish had appeared even more in the book.
I did struggle with Pip some because while part of me got upset and I wanted to yell at him and tell him not to do certain things, I still had a soft spot for him. I don’t want to excuse his behavior but I do think Pip was just so intent on bettering his situation that he ended up hurting those who cared for him. And, right before he goes to London we get a glimmer of his regret:
“It was by the finger-post at the end of the village, and I laid my hand upon it, and said, ‘good-by O my dear, dear friend.’ Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I cried, than before – more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. If I had cried before, I should have had Joe with me then.”
Then of course there is Estella… The cold and cruel object of Pip’s affections. She may not be an easy girl to like but then again how she was raised shaped the person she became. In the end I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for her own disillusion.
There were so many other things happening that I wonder just how much I missed but I still I thoroughly enjoyed this and want to thank Andi and Heather for choosing this book as the first read for the Year of Reading Dangerous Challenge. If you haven’t yet, go to the challenge blog to read what others thought of the book and participate in the discussions. Next month the group is reading The Bluest Eye but I’ll be taking a detour as I selected a different book.