“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Everyone knows the opening line to Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, written over a century and a half ago. So how does this book maintain such staying power? Why is it that one hundred and fifty years from its publication, its opening line is still etched into the memory of the world, carved irreversibly onto the face of literature? Because the book is simply that good.
I came into this book unsure of what I would face. After all, it is well-known as Charles Dickens’ best work, an author with undeniable merits, yet it seemed rather unapplicable to me, or rather outdated. And whats more, this book does start out with relatively slow pacing, slowly building up to the final pages of the book and the conflicts the book would reveal. So at first, this book may not seem like the one for you, but you must trudge on: it is worth it.
This book tells the tale of two cities (surprising, I know): London and Paris. It follows a seemingly random set of characters through the events of the late 18th century, bringing them finally to the whirlwind of confusion that surrounds the French Revolution. Dickens weaves a story that can be described both as a character study, for each and every major character the reader grows to understand, and identify with in a unique way, but also as a retrospective look at the flaws in both England and France during this time period. In doing so, he grounds us to reality by showing us the cruelty and fear undeserving people faced in eras past. Thus, the book remains timeless, and a beautiful look through one of the first realist authors’ eyes into a dark analysis of human character, and just how fragile human lie can be.
Book Review by Noah Brooks