After years of indifference towards Mr Dickens I've had my epiphany with 'Great Expectations' - unfortunately I'm given to understand that he wrote nothing else like it but I'm prepared to try my luck with 'Barnaby Rudge' and 'The Pickwick Papers'. With 'Barnaby Rudge' it's because the background of the anti catholic Gordon riots sounds interesting, 'The Pickwick Papers' just sounded like it might be a fun read from the back cover - although heaven knows when I'll get round to either of them.
'Great Expectations' took me a while to get through, despite coming in at a little under 500 pages there's a lot of reading in this book - it's definitely not one to rush not least because most the pleasure is in the detail. The Dickens I've read recently (Christmas short stories) has veered towards the sentimental, 'Great Expectations' has a streak of humour as well as Gothic horror that more than saves it from any tendency in that direction. It's also the humour that slowed me down, there's no point in rushing a good joke and there are so many of them to enjoy. Part of me would have like not to have enjoyed this book so much - to be able to say hand on heart that Trollope, or Collins, or Oliphant or Braddon, have done better or are as good but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just possibly the best Victorian novel out there (though 'Lady Audley's Secret' is a strong contender).
I don't think there's anything very much I can say about plot - I imagine most people are familiar with it, though again I have to say if you only know 'Great Expectations' through filmed versions please read it - I doubt very much that any adaptation could really do it proper justice. (I'm also just a bit worried that it wasn't the best place to give Dickens a second chance, it seems likely that anything else will be something of an anti climax.) It is undoubtedly a brilliantly well balanced book - Pip's development from boy to man with all the obnoxious fazes in-between is well executed, Miss Havisham stays just this side of possible as does Magwitch. Jaggers the lawyer and his clerk Wemmick are probably my favourite characters partly because they feel nicely observed, partly because they are among the details that make the novel so rich.
If there was a downside it would be on the sheer amount of coincidence used to drive the plot along - but that's not the sort of thing that worries me too much and especially not here when there are so many other things to enjoy that I'm quite willing to suspend my disbelief for a while. All in all expectations of this reading experience were exceeded, this is a book I feel much the richer for being better acquainted with and that I think is destined for many re reads.