I try to blog on one new book a week, but I’ve fallen behind because I’m rereading Dickens. I’d love to say I can read a 1,000-page novel like Bleak House and keep up with the latest Toni Morrison/Tom Bissell/Jane Harrison/Kate Summerscale, but I can’t.
So I’ve managed to find a way to cheat. In addition to Dickens, I will read only new books about Dickens, or that mention Dickens. And we’ll see how long this lasts.
1. Lynn Shepherd’s new novel, The Solitary House, a homage to Bleak House. In this entertaining historical mystery, Charles Maddox, a young detective, manages to fall afoul of powerful characters from Bleak House, Detective Charlie Bucket and the villainous lawyer Tulkinghorn. After Tulkinghorn hires Maddox to track down the writer of anonymous letters to a shady financier, the culprit turns up murdered the next day. So Maddox investigates the murder on his own, interviewing prostitutes, bartenders, landladies, inhabitants of slums and fashionable neighborhoods, and discovers a web of Jack-the-Ripper-style murders.
Other characters from Bleak House turn up, among them Lady Dedlock, Jo the sweeping boy, and George of the shooting gallery, and still others with minor name changes, like “Hester Summerson” and “Mr. Jarvis.”
Shepherd explains in the acknowledgements that she was also influenced by Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.
It is a clever historical mystery, and has enough fog to please, or disconcert, Dickens fans.
2. John Irving’s new novel, In One Person. He mentions Dickens in the second sentence. “While I say to everyone that I became a writer because of a certain book by Charles Dickens at the formative age of fifteen, the truth is I was younger than that when I met Miss Fros,t and imagined having sex with her, and this moment of my sexual awakening also marked the fitful birth of my imagination.”
He is a Dickens fan, I am an Irving fan, and he probably IS the American Dickens.
4. Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. Another biography, said to be excellent.
And these will keep me busy.