A bazaar crowded with random offerings. William Gibson/Henrik Ibsen. Zafon, Murakami, Van Gogh. A table of well-thumbed Louisa May Alcott. Shiny Urban Fantasy and an aromatic clutter of cookbooks.
I'd planned to start Martin Chuzzlewit on the Inimitable's birthday, but just as
I was set to begin, I spotted a stray comment by Peter Ackroyd that praised Barnaby Rudge as being particularly rewarding. On the premise that Ackroyd knows best, I changed my plans -- and am so very glad I did! Rudge is Dickens at the top of his form.
So much lovely writing. Descriptions of place are exceptionally rich. Each of the cast of wonderful characters is larger than life, as I expect from the Inimitable, but there's a less usual elegant restraint in his depictions here. In other books, characters like the hangman Mr. Dennis, the puffed up Tappertit and the shrewish Miggs would have been drawn with much broader strokes (ok, with the 19th century equivalent of a Sharpie), but in this book Dickens develops even these beyond the easy laugh. And for those like me who sometimes have problems with Dickens' women (don't get me started on Lucie Manette!), note that while few and mostly not admirable, the women here had some substance beyond being plot devices.
The book is set during the Gordon Riots, something I'm embarassed to say I knew nothing about. Dickens wasn't born yet -- and he couldn't google up a pack of news footage to make up the difference -- but he plunges you into the experience as if he were holding your hand in the thick of it. And he shows a spectacular mastery of mob psychology that, alone, is enough to secure the continued relevance of this novel.