Hey all! Today I’m talking about a book I’d wanted to read for years. It’s called The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, and it was on a list of bestsellers/must-read books for the year of 2012, which was a hell of a lot of time ago. It had been on my Amazon list for years, and I just received it as a Christmas present.
Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.
Thus ends William Makepeace Thackeray’s saucy, sarcastic, insightful novel about the citizens of Vanity Fair, a place of appearances, wealth, social status, and hypocrisy. The denizens of this part of Vanity Fair are the incorrigible Becky Sharp, the naive and kind Amelia Sedley, the steadfast and honorable William Dobbin, the vain Joseph Sedley, scoundrel George Osborne, and the dim-witted gambler Rawdon Crawley—among a host of others, a whole cast of vivid characters that the narrator, himself a character in the novel, eviscerates at every turn. I’ve written briefly before about my first impressions starting this novel, and now that I’ve finished, I have to say my biggest takeaway is my varying loyalties and sympathies to the two female characters in the book, who are extreme opposites: Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley.
Rebecca Sharp is the ultimate female anti-hero: a social climber, manipulative, dishonest by default, a terrible mother, a gambler, and a cheat. Her most famous description/line is:
…Though Miss Rebecca Sharp has twice had occasion to thank Heaven, it has been, in the first place, for ridding her of some person whom she hated, and secondly, for enabling her to bring her enemies to some sort of perplexity or confusion; neither of which are very amiable motives for religious gratitude…Miss Rebecca was not, then, in the least kind or placable. All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist…This is certain, that if the world neglected Miss Sharp, she never was known to have done a good action in behalf of anybody…”
Earlier this month I read Great Expectations, and previously, the only other Charles Dickens books I’d read were Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to read the classics, and since this is where I talk about books, I thought I’d share some thoughts, highlights, and favorite moments from Great Expectations, a classic, beloved story (because clearly, “reviewing” the classics is utterly useless!).
Even if you haven’t read Great Expectations, you probably know a little about the story: a poor little boy named Pip lives with his sister and her husband, and is set to be a blacksmith when he gets older. However, he has these wild fantasies of being a gentleman, and is ashamed of his poverty, his low status in society, and of his family, who are like him. His “great expectations” are to be a proper gentleman (and to come into money), and eventually, he gets what he wants—but not the way he thought he would.
Along the way, he meets people from all corners of society, and learns that social circles and maintaining status are difficult and superficial. There’s Miss Havisham, an old woman who has never changed out of her wedding dress (or thrown away the cake) since her groom abandoned her on her wedding day decades ago.
There’s also Estella, the adopted child of Miss Havisham, who was raised to be a weapon by which Miss Havisham can get back at men for what her groom did to her. There’s also Joe Gargery, the simple, proud, and loving father figure to Pip, whom Pip utterly abandons when he comes into money. And then there’s Pip himself, a man who has a good heart, but whose obsession with money and status makes him forsake the people who loved him unconditionally.