Bleak House, Charles Dickens.
A murder mystery, a love story, tragedy, wry wit, biting social criticism, Bleak House has it all. Bleak House revolves around the lives of those caught up in a tangled court case that has dragged on for so many years that it's become a legal legend. It's a rich, beautifully written masterpiece, with twists and turns to rival the most tangled of modern soap operas.
The plot is exciting, a delight to read, and even more delightful are Dickens' characters. Dickens is gifted at writing memorable vivid characters both as they seem to themselves and as they appear to the outside world: Lady Dedlock, haughty and bored and fashionable, weighted with grief and a guilty secret; her husband, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, pompous and loyal; lovely Esther, modest and selfless, a darling to all around her and all the more charming because she doesn't quite realize her own charms; the ridiculous Mr. Guppy, who fancies himself quite a catch; Miss Flite, wise and completely mad.
The writing itself is wonderful-- this book begs to be read out loud. I read it to the boys as they drifted off to sleep, to the dog, and even just to myself simply for the pleasure of speaking and hearing the ways the language rolled off my tongue. Dickens' wit is marvelous, dry and sly, like an inside joke, and he makes fun of nearly everyone.
I loved this book, and that's not something I say lightly. It made me think. It made me laugh. It made me cry, even though I already knew how the story ended. It made me wish I'd read it long ago.
I watched the Masterpiece Theater production before reading the book. If you have a chance to watch, the Masterpiece Theater production of Bleak House is brilliant, and inspired me to finally pick up the book despite its daunting 991 pages. Watching a book before reading it is strictly against my reading rules, but in this case I'm glad I made an exception. Gillian Anderson portrays the world-weary Lady Dedlock perfectly, and Phil Davis' "Shake me up, Judy!" Mr. Smallweed is absolutely spot-on. Fantastic.