A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens [Review]

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

a tale of two cities2A classic, a very challenging one, but still a classic nonetheless. Charles Dickens sends us to France during the early days leading up to the French Revolution. I know some have tried to read and cannot get past the first 30 pages, but trust me it is worth it. Just power through and you will not regret it.

Charles Dickens once said that ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was his best story. I agree. It is artfully written and introduces a cast of characters, extended across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political associations. He then manages to weave their stories and secrets together beautifully in a masterful way –many readers seem to agree with this.  The ending of this novel wraps everything up magnificently with no  loose ends and all the mysteries are solved. It is a beautiful story and read.

The novel is broken into three books. The first book was short and covers the time when Lucie’s long lost father is released from Bastille prison after 18 years and does not know who he is but manages to reunite himself with his long lost daughter. The second book is the longest of the three and covers a good few years leading up to the French Revolution. The third book and final book is just fantastic. You get to read and feel the poverty that has risen , as well as the danger for the aristocracy. The dreadful Madame La Guilotine is introduced which is just an image of horror for everyone. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is a brutal and insightful look at the French Revolution with all its heroes and villains and a clever twist at the end which will draw all the main characters together. It can be argued that it is one of the best novels on the French Revolution. It is a large work of imagination, giving a fictional account of the events and causes leading up to that dreadful summer of 1789.

You feel for many of the characters in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and each one is unique and different. Lucie Manette, the female protagonist, seems to connect every character together and inspire love from every direction. She is a likeable character and cannot help but sympathise with her. In a way, she is a heroine herself, at least she would be viewed as one back in 1859. I found Lucie engaging despite some people views about her. She was a strong character for the time and became the sole support for her poor father. Lucie Manette attracted two suitors who coincidentally looked quite alike; Charles Darnay , a French aristocratic who abandons his family name, and Sydney Carton, an English lawyer.  Charles Darnay is a likeable character. I have to admit I was set against him because he was Sydney’s competition when it came to Lucie’s heart but in the end I did sympathise with him. Disgusted with his family’s dealings and the way they treated the poor in France, he leaves for England and takes his mother’s maiden name and changing it a bit. He is well- meaning towards the end, trying to do the right thing and go back to France at a time when it was better to stay away and save a fellow family servant/friend. He is thus arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille. He does not have a hoped-for heroic moment, but a moment of quiet dignity that is most moving for his humility.

As far as Doctor Manette, Lucie’s long lost father, goes he is first introduced in the first 0bd1d2129b06ecd9199dbccdf5d8e4c0book of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. He was a prisoner in the Bastille prison for 18 years and throughout the book he battles his way from madness under the gentle protection of Lucie.  Doctor Manette is a character that you cannot help but sympathise with. His character is written wonderfully as a man whose understandable anger whilst in the Bastille prison comes back horrifically to haunt him and his new found peace. When the reader discovers the reason why Doctor Manette  was imprisoned in the first place, you instantly empathize with him and want to seek revenge for him.

The villain of the story — Madame Defarge. A very surprising character. At the start of the book you just think she is the wife of Monsieur Defarge, the owner of a French wine shop. You always see her knitting quietly in the corner and you soon come to suspect that she knows more than it seems and that she will become a big part of the story. How right your assumption turns out to be. We soon find out that she is part of the revolution against the aristocracy and a very vengeful woman. The big revelation of who she really is, is revealed in the third book of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and all of a sudden everything clicks into place. Madame Defarge is seen as the antithesis of Lucie Manette. She is the villain of the story as already stated, consumed with revenge and in a way not even human towards the end of the book as she is consumed by her hatred. She is one of the characters that sticks to you after reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

Before I begin to talk about Sydney Carton let me make a small mention of another character, that of the name Jarvis Lorry. Jarvis Lorry is a banker and a dear friend to the Manette family. Throughout the book, his love and concern for Doctor Manette is touching and his protectiveness over Lucie is just wonderful. He can be seen as a somewhat of a hero when Dickens puts him in charge of the carriage that will help an entire family escape from the guillotine.

'A Tale of Two Cities' book cover poster

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ book cover poster

Now as regards to Sydney Carton. Oh Sydney Carton! Safe to say that I fell in love with Sydney Carton immediately, and this book is so cruel for anyone who loves him as much as I do. Brilliant, bohemian and indifferent.  He is the ultimate hero of the book with his selflessness at the end. Half way through the book he confesses his love to Lucie even though he knows it will not be returned. He tells her to forget their conversation for now and never to speak of it and that he will ever be in her service if he is ever needed. When Sydney tells Lucie that ‘there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you” you know that you will break down in tears at the end of the book. Dickens is preparing you of what is about to happen in the next chapters. You have a feeling of what is coming.  His genius, his agony, his selflessness  and his ultimate noble sacrifice make his stand out from the rest of the characters.  The ending is so heartbreaking and I don’t think I am recovered yet after reading this. If you have not read the book or do not know how it ends stop here as a major SPOILER will be discussed. Sydney’s final thoughts and vision of Paris is fantastic; ‘fair to be look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement‘. His vision of Lucie with Charles now safe and would live happily and safe is heartbreaking and emotional. He knows that Lucie would remember that promise he made her back when he first confessed his love to her and thank him for what he is about to do. His sacrifice to save Lucie Manette’s love is just perfect. I believe that the ending is what makes the book. As sad as the ending is- trust me, it is devastating- it is a perfect ending to a book with the infamous words from Sydney Carton as well as one of the most well know phrases today. By the time I finished the book, I was in tears and did not recover for a good few hours.

A book full of love, sacrifice, and revenge. A story well written and worth a read. As I said at the beginning of this post, I know it can be slow to start with but it is worth reading all the way through. I know that Dickens is not for everyone; however, I would say to have a go and see what you think. He might surprise you as a writer. The unjust imprisonment of Charles Darnay makes up for the ironic justice dealt out to Madame Defarge in the end. And of course, Sydney Carton is one of the most beautiful characters in all literature I find and will always have a place in my heart.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

— K.J. Koukas

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Timeline – Michael Crichton [Review]

The purpose of history is to explain the present–to say why the world around us is the way it is. History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be.
— Michael Crichton, Timeline

Michael Crichton was a brilliant man. He was a writer and a filmmaker, best known as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of ER, which became the best-rated programme on US television.  I have to admit that I never realised that the creator of ER was the same person who wrote Jurassic Park, The Great Train Robbery, the 13th Warrior and Timeline. The day I realised he was the same person I loved him even more.  I love ER and re-watch it all the time. I love his books as well.

I recently finished ‘Timeline’ and I loved it. I had seen awhile ago a film adaptation of thistimeline1 book and it was an alright film. If I remember correct it starred Gerald Butler, Billy Connolly and Paul Walker. A watchable film but nothing special. When I started the book I could not put it down. I loved it and it was a million times better than the film as it is often the case with books and film adaptations. This can be one of the many examples to prove the long-time argument of what is better, books or films? BOOKS is always the correct answer!

Timeline tells the story of a group of historians in 1999 who are employed by a tech billionaire genius. His plan is to build a theme park featuring artefacts from a lost world revived via cutting- edge science.  Whenan old man wearing a brown robe is found wandering disoriented in the Arizona desert. He is miles from any human habitation and has no memory of how he got to be there, or who he is. The only clue to his identity is the plan of a medieval monastery in his pocket. So begins the mystery of Timeline, a story that will catapult a group of young scientists back to the Middle Ages and into the heart of the Hundred Years’ War.”

His writing is inviting, enticing, tempting, addictive and just brilliant. I was captured from the first page of ‘Timeline’. Michael Crichton is a great storyteller and manages to explain the science behind the story. This helps anyone who does not understand or gets physics and manages to grasp a basic idea behind the science of the whole scheme of the book.  ‘Timeline’  is not your average time-travel story. It’s very detail-oriented, and you find out soon enough that some of the characters have an agenda deeper than just wanting to go back and visit the medieval times.

The characters are rock solid and believable.  The good guys were likeable and the bad guys were really bad — and I know how that sounds but it is true. You don’t know who to trust once you’ve travelled back in the 14th century. You are hoping that you manage to find Professor Johnson before time is up. I cannot choose a character that stood out for me, as all of them have their little quirks, from Andre Marek with his love of archaeology and the 14th century to Chris Hughes who started out as the ‘weak bookish graduate student’ and turned into the robust, confident hero who comes in to save the day.

You know that Michael Crichton had done lots of research before writing ‘Timeline’ as his brilliant account of the world of 1357 takes you back to a ”time which seems thousands of years in regression of civilisation. ‘The suspense throughout the book is unpredictable, well-narrated and interesting”. You are always on your toes for the next disaster or mishap. From the in-depth descriptions of the ”war lords, the customs, the castles, the fortresses, the soldiers, the knights, the languages (from Occitan to Latin to old English and very old French)”, and the endless adventures which came upon our time travellers, you felt as though you were part of that world.

The premise was appealing, the action was gripping, the plot thickens as you read and the ending was dramatically satisfying. I loved ‘Timeline’ from start to finish. I would recommend the book to any science-fiction lovers as well as historical fiction fans. It is worth a read and you never know, you might even like Michael Crichton’s style of writing and get hooked with his writing like I did.

When I started reading this book I knew a little bit about physics, and the history of 14th century France. After ‘Timeline’ I am confident in telling you more about quantum foam, particles and various historical trivia about 14th century France. Crichton combines history(medieval) and science(quantum technology) in a heart-stopping adventure that you will never forget.

“If you [don’t] know history, then [you don’t] know anything. You [are] a leaf that [doesn’t] know it [is] part of a tree.”
― Michael Crichton, Timeline

Have also a look at : Michael Crichton: “Timeline”

— K.J. Koukas

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee [Review]

“I just don’t like my world disturbed without some warning.” – Jean Louise Finch tells beau Hank Clinton

From the moment publisher HarperCollins announced the release of “Go Set a Watchman” in early February, reactions of ecstatic disbelief had been shadowed by concerns about the book’s quality. There was a high anticipation of Harper Lee’s new novel from the ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ fans, myself included, and it became the most pre-ordered title on Amazon since the last Harry Potter book. However,  as the months went by I was sceptical about ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and whether I should read it or not. I love ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and I was worried that this sequel would ruin it for me. But I knew that when the book was released I would read it due to my own morbid curiosity.

So on July the 14th I received my copy of ‘Go Set a go set a watchmanWatchman’. Before I started reading it I was spoiled with a few facts, which I am sure everyone knows by now,  especially if you read the first chapter online [which became available 4 days before its release]. The first SPOILER was that Jem died. Now I don’t know whether this piece of news was as sad to others, but I was devastated when I read that. Jem was a big character in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and so protective of Scout. We are not given much detail about his death in the first chapter, but later on in the book it is mentioned that he suffered the same fate as his mother, which was ‘he dropped dead because of his heart’. The second SPOILER is that Atticus is a racist and a member of the KKK! Every fan of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was probably cursing Harper Lee for doing this to our favourite father figure and character. But more on this subject later on.

Let me start by giving a brief description from the back of the book: ”Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.”

One of the first things that we learnt about ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was that it was meant to be released instead of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Harper Lee started writing the book and her publisher at the time after reading the first draft told her that she would rather read about

harper-leethe children’s childhood in Maycomb. So Harper Lee put ‘Go Set a Watchman’ aside and started on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. That is how our beloved classic came to be released and become part of our reading world. Now 55 years later ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was found among Harper Lee’s documents in her Alabama house and decided to publish it. Is it just me or is that a bit dubious? considering that Harper Lee was perfectly happy with her quiet life and wanted to stay away from the public eye.  Why after 55 years, Harper Lee decided to publish her then-first novel? And apparently there’s going to be a third one?

Anyway back to the book…. After reading the first chapter, you know that this is an ‘adult’ book , a book that will get darker if you will and very political. After reading ‘Go Set a Watchman’ you feel as if you have grown up. You have lost your innocence, you have developed your own standards and worst of all the person you looked up to, a person you idolised has disappointed you.

Throughout the first part of the book, Harper Lee builds the tension, drawing us in slowly, revealing the Maycomb that we all and Jean Louise ‘Scout’ knew. We visit Finch’s Landing, experience flashbacks to her childhood with Jem and Dill. We soon realise that the Maycomb  we once knew and loved has changed along with its citizens. It is the ‘changes in the people of Maycomb, not the town itself, that are the most shocking and unexpected’. You don’t get to see old familiar faces other than Atticus and aunt Alexandra. Dill is nowhere to be seen other than a passing mention in conversations between Jean Louise and Henry (her new beau) and in flashbacks. Boo Radley is not mentioned anywhere in the book, but to be honest I am glad as who knows what Harper Lee might have changed about him. Not only Atticus changed but also Calpurnia (so angry!).  In ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Calpurnia has long left the Finches’ service and now lives with her children and grandchildren. We’ve always known that Calpurnia was like a maternal figure for both Scout and Jem. She made sure they were well-behaved, scolded them when needed and always considered them one of her own. It is even mentioned in the beginning of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ that she was devastated when Jem died. But that all changes when Jean Louise goes to visit her after her grandson accidentally runs over an old man and killing him. Calpurnia rejects Jean Louise. In an emotional moment, the woman who raised Scout reacts to her with sadness and indifference. Talking to her in her ‘company voice’ as Jean Louise puts it. Finally coming to grips with the realities of what is happening, Jean Louise says, “Tell me one thing, Cal, just one thing before I go – please, I’ve got to know. Did you hate us?” After a long moment of silence, Calpurnia shakes her head. Unfortunately, neither Calpurnia nor any of Maycomb’s other black characters appear again after this powerful scene.  Furthermore, the Finch house, the setting for summer-long imaginative play between Jem, Scout and Dill, has been knocked down and replaced with an ice cream parlour. One would see this  as symbolic; Harper Lee has  destroyed our loving memories of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Why Harper Lee? Just why?

A small mention about Jem and his death… A few reviews that I have read state that Jem’s death has a purpose. And that is to introduce Henry Clinton,  Atticus’ right-hand man, his adoptive son after Jem ‘s death and Jean Louise’s love interest. Henry Clinton is a childhood friend of Jem and Scout’s, which is another reason why Atticus takes him under his wing. However, Henry is not mentioned at all in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but that is quickly explained in ‘Go Set a Watchman’ as he apparently out of town during the summers. Still though, if he is such an important figure in the Finch’s life surely he would have been mentioned, even in passing conversation. Fortunately, Jem is not gone completely from the novel, I am happy to say as he appears in Jean Louise’s flashbacks.
Ever since I first read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I immediately loved Atticus Finch and he was the symbol of everything good in humanity. I idolised him as many others have done before me and he was a man who could not do any wrong. The best literary father figure whom every reader wanted to ask for his advice. Then ‘Go Set a Watchman’ came along and ruined everything.  As already mentioned ‘Go Set a Watchman’ follows Scout now  referred to her full name Jean Louise as a grown woman, it shows her discovery that her father is not the man she thought he was and how she copes with this revelation. He is no longer the symbol of all good in humanity. He is simply a flawed and unsympathetic elderly man who is a member of the KKK.  Atticus is clearly a racist; he uses insulting terms and tells Jean Louise that black people “are still in their childhood as a people.” Despite this though, he is still (I feel) an honourable, disciplined man, but not a perfect one.

‘Go Set a Watchman’ is about growing up. It’s about discovering your own person, becoming your own person , and creating your own beliefs and arguments. You are no longer an innocent child who idolises her father, who thinks he is god. You realise he is human and not perfect. He has his flaws. You learn how to stand on your own two feet and not depend on your parents. You accept that you might not agree with your loved one and learn to live alongside them as well as learn to forgive them for their beliefs.  As we see Jean Louise’s childhood image of Atticus crumble before her eyes, we cannot help but feel like it is happening to us as well. As I read ‘Go Set a Watchman’ I felt betrayed by Atticus and disappointed in him. I was angry with him and when Jean Louise was shouting at him and telling him why didn’t he just showed this side of him when she was a child I felt as if I was shouting those statements at him.  Slowly and painfully you realise that what uncle Jack states to Jean Louise on page 265 is true :

”As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God.”

I do wonder though, if Harper Lee did not wait 55 years to publish ‘Go Set a Watchman’ but released this novel a few years after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ whether fans would feel different. Let us not forget that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was the novel that Harper Lee was originally going to write and publish. Fans have read and re-read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for years and each time Atticus Finch grows in their hearts. Now Harper Lee comes along, 55 years later, and reveals to us this other side of Atticus Finch. No wonder we are all disappointed and angry. But would be feel like this if we did not have 55 years to idolise Atticus Finch?  Those readers who have read and loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for years feel Scout’s pain and heartbreak. She does not even have her brother Jem or her childhood friend Dill by her side during this difficult time. I do wonder sometimes what would Jem think of Atticus if he discovered this side of his? Would he be as heartbroken as Scout?

” Go Set a Watchman is To Kill a Mockingbird grown up”

I have to say though, that by reading ‘Go Set a Watchman’ I could see what Harper Lee’s publisher saw all those years ago. The flashbacks throughout the story were brilliant and to kill a mockingbird1readers like me felt a warm familiar feeling. Like greeting old friends. You get to play with Jem and Dill again, take part in their ideas and shenanigans. Calpurnia is as you remember her, firm but loving. When reading Jean Louise’s flashbacks it put a smile on my face and I am so glad that Harper Lee listened to her publisher and wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Having said that, I have to admit that ‘Go Set a Watchman’  teaches a powerful lesson and that is that eventually you will grow up to have different political views from your parents. It does not mean that I am not still bitter about the whole thing. I am glad to have read ‘Go Set a Watchman’. It gives me an idea of what Harper Lee’s original piece of writing would have been. However, a part of me wishes I did not read ‘Go Set a Watchman’ as I am afraid that maybe it has spoiled my perfect image of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I have told myself that I am going to treat ‘Go Set a Watchman’ as a stand-alone novel. That it has nothing to do with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I have no idea whether ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ will be different for me after reading this novel, but I guess I will not know until I re-read it.  For better or for worse, I believe that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will change for some the way read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ forever.

Let me finish this post by stating that novelist Ursula Le Guin on her blog  ”asks some of the hard questions To Kill a Mockingbird evades”.  [it is quite interesting and worth a read]

“I’m glad, now, that Watchman was published,” wrote Le Guin. “It hasn’t done any harm to the old woman, and I hope it’s given her pleasure. And it redeems the young woman who wrote this book, who wanted to tell some truths about the Southern society that lies to itself so much. She went up North to tell the story, probably thinking she’d be free to tell it there. But she was coaxed or tempted into telling the simplistic, exculpatory lies about it that the North cherishes so much. The white North, that is. And a good part of the white South too, I guess.”

— K.J. Koukas