Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

A Tale of Two Cities Read-along: Book 2

I think it’s fair to say that Book 1 and the first nine chapters of Book 2 were a little slow.  The further into Book 2 I got, the more I enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities.  It slowly became everything that I’d been hoping for when I first started reading Dickens.  I didn’t completely stop having to re-read paragraphs every now and then to really understand them but the overall number of moments of bafflement did decrease.  Because I’m a day late in posting this, I have actually read about 60 or so pages of Book 3 and it’s more of the same.  To sum up before we get into the nitty spoiler gritty: I’m enjoying the book more and more as the pages go by faster and faster.


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Right.  If you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities and want to avoid spoilers, look away now.  If you want to go back to the beginning of the read-along, my first post is HERE.  Otherwise, you’ll have to hang on until I get round to writing a fulll review.  SPOILERS AHEAD!


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Getting back into Book 2 was difficult for me.  I’d finally warmed to the story with the murder of the Marquis and then was disappointed when we returned to England to life with Charles Darnay and the Manettes. 

I love Dr Manette and his efforts to triumph over whatever wrong was done to him when he was locked up in the Bastille.  I was dying to know what landed him there in Book 1 and I was still wondering at the end of Book 2.  Truth be told, I’m STILL wondering 60 or so pages into Book 3!  Maybe that’s the point.  Maybe what I am refusing to accept is that poor, poor Dr Manette was imprisoned for nothing at all.  Being in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Whatever the reason, when he regressed to shoe-making on the departure of Lucie and Charles on their honeymoon, I felt a little twist in my stomach as Mr Lorry struggled to pull him back to reality.  What the Lucie and Charles love story lacked in charm at that point was balanced out by Dr Manette’s struggle.

Oh, and was anybody else rooting for a Mr Lorry and Miss Pross romance while they were united in their efforts to save the noble Doctor?  Just me?

One thing that I fear I will never understand is the dream/imagining sequences.  I didn’t quite get them in Book 1 and I definitely didn’t get them in Book 2.  Dr Manette saw a Lucie but it wasn’t a Lucie? She didn’t know you but also she did?  She set you free and kept you captive?   I am almost certain that there was something more going on there that I just wasn’t getting but then I figured that I could live without seeing through the abstract sequence and moved on…

The final few chapters of the book almost had me forgetting the meanderings of the early pages.  The descriptions of the start of the French Revolution, with the marauding mob and rampaging men and women, were really something.  I’ve preferred the sections set in France all along but it was the end of Book 2 where I really felt like I was being rewarded for my earlier patience.  I loved how characters and themes from earlier in the novel started re-appearing too.  Almost like I was on the in side of an in-joke.  And even while I was repulsed by the barbaric treatment of the perceived enemies of the people, I found myself drawn towards sympathy.  I am no expert when it comes to the socio-economic causes of the French Revolution but I can empathise with those struggling under wide-spread poverty and starvation being driven towards delivering what they believe to be justice. 

I still have no idea what is going on with Jerry and his apparently spiky hair/head and whether I love or hate Syndey Carton but I do know that I adore Madame Defarge. She may turn out to be despicable (I just don’t know!) and she sounded absolutely terrifying when the peasants were roused out of their starvation to go a-murdering but if you’re knitting your way through the opening stages of any revolution, you are one strong lady, codes or not.  I suppose in many ways, her strength is surprising.  Lucie Manette is how I expected Dickens to write female characters; plenty of simpering and sitting around being delicate and pretty but not a lot else.  Madame Defarge is at least Monsieur Defarge’s equal and the quiet focus and resolution behind their efforts to liberate the French people:

Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule”

“It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning” said Defarge.

“How long”, demanded madame, composedly, “does it take to make and store the lightning?  Tell me.”

Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.

“It does not take a long time”, said madame, “for an earthquake to swallow a town. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake?”

“A long time, I suppose” said Defarge” [Page 174, eBook edition]

The thing that I think a lot of the valiant #DickensinDecember participants have struggled with is that whatever we’ve thought of this famous novel, it isn’t one that draws you back to its pages.  I’ve had a little break between each of the books and I think it’s helped me get more out of it.  Usually, I am fastidious about only reading one book at once and I would have pushed myself through A Tale of Two Cities, however much I wanted to take a breath.  Coming back to Book 3, I find that I feel refreshed, ready to get back into the story and genuinely looking forward to seeing where everything ends for these characters.  Because I just know that it won’t end well for everybody.  Or anybody, probably.

Next week is the wrap-up and I’m genuinely worried that my heart will have been broken by that point. I’m not known for being particularly sob-resistant and I’m going to read the final few chapters in the privacy of my own home, just in case…