Sunday, 11 March 2012

You always become what you hate the most: Charles Dickens approaches with my doom in his hand

A quick recap of the situation to date. Our hero, that bloke wot writes this blog, had been turned off Literary Classics by the receipt and reading of some truly dull books at school in which nothing happened. These literary greats having compared terribly with Watership Down, The Prisoner of Zenda, Dracula, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and even the gentle Swallows and Amazons, our hero abandoned tedious literature in which nothing happened, his decision crowned by his first failure to finish a book: Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Thus fortified in his beliefs, he set out into a world of sci-fi adventures, rabbiting rodents and Terry Pratchett. Now read on!

In the last couple of years I decided I would give "Classics of Literature" another blast. After all, I'm twice the age these days that I used to be, and many of my tastes and opinions have changed, so why not this one? When I was in hospital, about a year ago, Mum brought me The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney to read. I shan't lie. Some things do happen in it, and the characters also think. It is a melancholy work, I advise you, but I urge on you more strongly to read it. It contains incident and characters worthy of interest, which leads us back to my first paragraph and Great Expectations. Fans of Boz will doubtless have felt outrage at my characterisation of Great Expectations and similar as "tedious literature in which nothing happen[s]". Imagine you're a teenage boy and you have before you that work and, say, King Solomon's Mines.

The former has an escaped convict, a mad, love-ruined, broken-down old woman in a love-ruined, broken-down old house, a pretty girl who is insufferable, and a main character who does practically nothing. The latter book has an enthralling tale of lost treasure, a missing civilisation, great riches, peril as the heroes nearly die of thirst in a terrible desert, interesting (rather than boring) treachery, fights, guns - I'll stop now as my point is made. Great Expectations has thinky stuff and explains it slowly. Whereas an adventure story such as I mentioned actually captures one's interest and does not let it go. A reasonable (if not altogether fair) comparison might be between a romantic comedy film and something by Michael Bay, Lord of Explosions.

As one gets older, one does not necessarily lose one's taste for visceral things, although one's interpretation of them might be in a quite different light. When first I watched Predator, for instance, it was exciting and filled with incident. Nowadays, mind you, I enjoy remembering comic lines, amusing hyperbole, overblown acting and so on. I enjoy the same film for different reasons. I reread Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World last year, and it was as enjoyable as ever. Really, how can Dickens compare to dinosaurs in the mind of a teenage boy? Frankly, he can't compare to them these days in my mind. But I have to admit that he doesn't have to. Chocolate cake does not compare to curry. Even thinking of the two together makes one's brain lash out at the odd association.

I have lately been reading George Eliot's Middlemarch, in which, to be honest, nothing happens. There are no dinosaurs, lost tribes, spaceship battles, hideous or hilarious aliens, nor even so far (about six tenths of the way through) any great villains or heroes, harridans or heroines. It is a sedate and long-winded - if George Eliot can use fifty words when one would do, she will! - description of several love affairs and related circumstances in a small provincial English town around two hundred years ago. Despite the fact that "nothing happens", I am interested by the characters and their stories, and wondering what will happen next. There lies the title of this piece. Ever so slightly more happens in Great Expectations than happens in Middlemarch, so there's a pretty good chance, when I come to have another stab at the former in a few months' time, that I will enjoy it more than the latter. You see the terrible fate which approaches: I may be doomed to enjoy a book! Horribile dictu! Let us only hope that years of reading Clive Cussler have spared me the ability to enjoy a bit of that bearded Victorian!

On a related literary note, I have opened my eyes to the fact that I am none too bad at exposition - though reading Eliot has made me more verbose than even I usually am - and so have penned one short story and am considering another. The other will be suitable for mass consumption, so you may expect to see it here some time. Don't worry about length. I mean to make it just four paragraphs long. It will be an experiment to see how densely I can pack artifice into the available space. The short story will not be here. It deals with dark themes, and having written it last night, I found I couldn't sleep afterward. I don't intend to expose you, dear reader, to that sort of thing! Until next time: that's all, folks!


  1. Ha, ha, Clive Cussler I love him. The Grandmaster of Adventure but from some of his books he's the greatest Science Fiction writer of all time. Some of his plots are truly ludicrous - an evil organisation who sets about to bring an ice-age by boring holes from one side of South America to the other so they can divert warm water from one coast to another and disrupt the currents that warm northern Europe. Thus ensuring the new renewable energy source heaters they've developed will sell like, erm hot things obviously. Honestly I've not made this up!

  2. Aye, a villainous Chinese businessman is behind that one, I think. Ridiculous stuff! :-D


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