A Tale of Two Cities is set in both London and Paris in the lead up to the French revolution. It is split into three parts: Recalled to Life, which is introductory, The Golden Thread, which details the basic premise and The Track of a Storm, the explosive and gripping finale. Dr. Manette has been unfairly imprisoned in France for 18 years, and has lost touch not only with his daughter Lucie, but with reality; his imprisonment has driven him mad and he spends days and days creating and recreating the same shoes. He is reunited with her and she nurses him back to physical and mental stability. Meanwhile Lucie attracts the attention of two men - an aristocratic Frenchman named Charles Darnay and an alcoholic English lawyer named Sydney Carton while she and her father are on the way back to London. This premise might sound quite dull, but this is a novel where the less you know about the main bulk of the plot, the better.
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Dickens. One of my favourite novels is Great Expectations, which I found easy to read, and to be a fabulous heart-rending story with interesting character development. I also love A Christmas Carol and many of his short ghost stories such as The Signal-Man; what an atmosphere of spookiness and dread he can create! I did not care for Oliver Twist, however; it was very heavy and slow and took me weeks to finally finish.
On to A Tale of Two Cities. Nothing much happens for the first half, and although the narrative is beautifully written and full of rich descriptions, I found it quite a struggle to get through because of this. It is not until the third and final part, The Track of the Storm, that it got interesting for me, and after that I could barely put it down. A Tale of Two Cities is an intimate novel which does not look at the French revolution on a grand scale but rather is a study of the small lives affected by it, making the novel highly poignant and moving.
A Tale of Two Cities has plenty of aspects to love; it has romance, it has a historical setting, it is a story of sacrifice, justice and unrequited love. It is incredibly sad but also heartwarming and full of hope. Furthermore it is an extremely intelligent, thoughtful and quotable novel, for example, some of my favourites are:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”
In the end I really enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, but for many it may not be worth trudging through a lot of ‘nothing’ to get to the crux of the story. Great Expectations remains the Dickens to beat; I’d recommend that to anyone.