38 Book Challenge

Book #6: Great Expectations

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
# of Pages: 521
Genre: Classic

I never thought this day would come. I mean, I always HOPED it would come, of course, but it was kind of like how I felt about running a marathon–maybe it would happen someday. Well, apparently this year is the year of “somedays” because I not only am running my marathon (next week, no less!), but this is also the year that I finished Great Expectations.

Now, you might rightfully be wondering what all the fuss is about. Here’s the truth of the matter: I have tried, very unsuccessfully, to read this novel a good 5 or 6 times. I even got about two-thirds of the way through it once when I was a senior in high school before I threw the book across the room in anguish and gave up (Just kidding. About the throwing-the-book part anyway). Ever since, I’ve always claimed that I just wasn’t meant to be a Dickens fan. Of course, when I finished reading A Christmas Carol last year, I had to take that excuse back. And now that I’ve finished Great Expectations I’ve got to say that I might have to start leaning in the exact opposite direction. A small miracle, to say the least.

Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, a young orphan who is brought up by his beast of his sister and who expects to live out his days in poverty–until, that is, the day that he meets Ms. Havisham (who is possibly the creepiest character ever known to the book world). Ms. Havisham is an eccentric, rich woman whose groom-to-be left her just before their wedding was to start. After her heartbreak, she stopped all the clocks in her house at exactly the moment he left her and refused to change out of her wedding dress for the next 50 or so years (you never quite know how old she is). She also left the entire bridal feast on the table in one of the rooms (including the cake), where they slowly molded and then grew into a sort of petrified mess in her dark, oppressive house. Anyway, she has adopted a breathtakingly beautiful young girl named Estela and one day decides that Estela needs a playmate. So she invites Pip over and tells them to play. What really happens is that Pip falls madly in love with Estela, who has been trained and brought up by Ms. Havisham to break men’s hearts everywhere. Pip starts to hate himself and his station in life because he believes his poverty is the only thing keeping him from the one he loves.

One day, Pip receives the notice that he has a mysterious benefactor who is going to provide all the necessary funds for him to become a gentleman. From that point on, Pip sets about trying to learn everything necessary so he can realize his greatest hope: to marry the beautiful Estela at last.

This book had some serious twists and turns in it that I didn’t expect, and they were not unwelcome ones; I always love it when an author can surprise me without angering me. I spent much of the book disliking Pip for his pettiness, but at the same time pitying him. I hated Estela, yet was fascinated by her. And I loved Ms. Havisham from the beginning for her delicious creepiness. Once you get past the bulky language, Great Expectations becomes at once a tale of suspense and romance, and a story with well-rounded, unique characters that you will not soon forget. My only beef was that the edition I have included both the usual, printed ending (which is the only one included in most editions) and the original ending that Dickens apparently changed just before the book went to press. Seeing as though the two endings are the EXACT opposite of each other, I hated not knowing how the story was really “supposed” to end. It was the only time in 500+ pages that the author ever poked his nose into my thoughts, and if you’ve been following my book reviews, you know that’s my biggest pet peeve. So if you’re going to read this, get a book that just has the new ending–it’s a much happier one anyway.

I was so pleased overall with the book though that it just made me eager to get back to reading off of my classics list again–I have been trying since my senior year of high school to read this list of “100 Classics for College-Bound Youth.” Of course, I find it sad that I’ll be graduating from college in 3 weeks and have yet to read all of them, but oh well. Better late than never, I suppose.

Anyway, if you have the stamina to tackle the language of old classics, this is definitely one that’s worth your time. And even if you don’t think you have the stamina, I would still recommend that you give it a try. It’s a story that will stay with you for a long, long time.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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