A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
A friend of mine says that he could never read this book because the first paragraph ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...") did him in. If you feel the same way, then for God's sake skip the first paragraph. For otherwise you are missing out on one of the most powerful novels in our language.
I won't promise that this is an easy book to begin, but once you really begin it, it is a hard book to put down. It was the first book by Dickens that I read and, on the strength of my love for it, I made it all the way through Oliver Twist (which I did not like). It has that kind of power.
Some would say that if you know what's going to happen too early on, the suspense is gone and the fun of reading it is spoiled. I say that if you've read A Tale of Two Cities, you know better. This book is so well-crafted that, from the half-way point at the very latest, you will probably know exactly how it is going to end. Yet you will be drawn, through agonizing suspense and reams upon reams of Kleenex, to the very last sentence. After which, if anything on a printed page can touch your heart, you might sit with the book closed on your lap and just cry for a while.
This is both a historical romance novel (set in the French Revolution at the turn of the 19th century) and a strikingly realistic character novel, written in a style ahead of its time. Nothing else that Dickens wrote, as far as I have read to date, comes close to this. I cannot begin to express how important it is that you forget what you saw on Hallmark Hall of Fame and read this book for yourself.
Only then will the closing sentences of this book ("It is a far, far better thing...") hit you with their full, ballistic power. Only then will the preposterous idea on which the whole plot turns, become so sublime that you would sooner disbelieve the laws of gravity than question whether Sidney Carton would--or could--really take the place of Charles Darnay. Only then will you truly understand how low the hatred of Madame Defarge can pull you down, or how high the love of Lucie Manette can lift you up. Only then, after reading this surprisingly short novel, will you understand why Charles Dickens is not just a great entertainer, but one of the great artists of English fiction.
This is a story of love and sacrifice, of heroism in a time of terror, and of the way a seemingly worthless and insignificant person can stem the tide of events and, perhaps, even redeem himself. Themes like this should resonate with Harry Potter fans, I think. But if you like reading, and if you want to care about the people you read about, this is simply a novel you must read. Before, after, or even instead of any and all of Dickens' other books, I recommend A Tale of Two Cities.
Recommended Age: 16+
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