I’ve recently been making my way through a list of classics I’ve always wanted to read but never had but I decided to start off 2017 with one that I loved when I read it before to see if I still enjoyed it ten years later. Great Expectations is that book that you studied at school, the one you pick apart and analyse every other word so if it survived that and made me want to read it again in the past I thought it would be worth reading again, especially as I got the Penguin Clothbound Classics version last year. This has an RRP of £14.99 though it seems to vary in price, WH Smith currently have a lot of the Clothbound Classics at £10.49.
One thing I like about these Clothbound Classics is the little extras added in that add context, whether it’s the author’s life or what was happening at the time in the world in general. I know these aren’t necessary to enjoy the story but I think of them a bit like those extras you get in DVDs that are fun to read if you want but can also be ignored. If you want the ISBN number and details of this exact edition I’ve put them at the end.
The first thing that drew me to this whole collection is the cover. I love the Clothbound feel, it feels like a classic book and a bit luxurious, and the repeating pattern that picks out an element from the book, this time the chandeliers that were in so many big houses at the time. The contrast between the navy and the pale yellow or cream makes it stand out so much as well. The only thing with these covers is that you have to be careful when removing the price as it tends to bring off a bit if the print in the repeated pattern.
The paper in this one is the standard thickness as with a lot of books, which does make it thicker than a lot in the collection due to the novel length and extras. The print is clear and it’s the same size as with most longer novels so it’s easy to read if you don’t have a problem with standard books.
The extras in this book do add to it, some with the background of the author like the Charles Dickens chronology so you know a bit about how much he knew on the subjects in the book based on life experience without having to do any real studying. I think my favourite extra is the map, it makes it even easier to visualise the area and how the different places relate to each other. To be honest, for me, the extra I was least interested in was the changes in the book at different editions, or the changes by page, though I can see it being interesting to others. It was interesting to see the original ending that Dickens wrote, though it’s only a small piece of text it was nice to have it in there for me.
The story itself is definitely a classic Dickens story with the Victorian working class characters, some tragedy, interesting characters and, in this one, the working class character trying to better himself by working hard and using the methods that would have happened at the time it was written. Without any spoilers it follows Pip, a boy at the beginning, who has an encounter with a convict which later effects his life in unexpected ways. You watch him grow up, meet a girl, try to better himself and it’s generally following his life and the characters he meets.
One thing I love about this book, as I did fall in love with it again, is the complexity of the characters, especially some of the women. You have some who appear well off but have a painful past they can’t get beyond, some who are content with their life even if they aren’t the most well off and others who, like in a lot of Dickens novels, will do anything to get rich and gain power. It’s interesting to see how they influence the main character and how he reacts to them as he grows up, meeting new people and revisiting people from the past.
You can tell this isn’t a modern novel, not only the actual story and settings but the writing style would probably not be used in a novel today. Some of the words aren’t ones people would be familiar with and I remember being 13 and having to look things up so I don’t think it’s one for younger readers, even without any other themes. However the themes and ideas do follow through to the modern day with money and power and the way people react to it or want to do to get it. It also highlights the difference between the working classes and the highest classes in English society which, although they may be less obvious now, are still there.
Overall I think this is a good book, though it’s a long read and not one to go for if you don’t like classic fiction. It does have some words that you won’t use in everyday conversation now and some of the things that happen in it are hard to imagine happening in the UK today. It is one that I think does benefit from a bit of background reading , though this edition covers the majority of it anyway, but that might just be me.
There are so many editions if this available that you can probably find one cheap on eBay or Amazon, or even your local second hand bookshop or charity shop, so if you’re not set on this exact edition you can find one to check out very cheap. It’s also one you’re likely to find in your local library, or they could easily get it in, so that might be the best first stop to see if you like it.
Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Year written: 1860
Publisher and year: Penguin Classics, 2008
ISBN Number: 978-0-141-04036-3