Sunday, 16 November 2014

Day 1 November 16th 2014 Great Expectations


I have kept a reading journal for a number of years, much to the amusement of my teenage children and their friends.  It is seen as something twee and a little archaic!  So, I suppose my attempt at blogging my reading is, in some ways, a nod to the 21st century that my notebooks have been so stoically avoiding...

I was going to wait until the New Year to begin my blog; there is something tidy about a new start in January, something promising, something that awakens great expectations.  But my husband couldn't see the tidiness, he could only see prevarication.  His logic has won out, and so here I am.

My remit is to blog about what I have read.  I will give opinion and reaction, but I won't be a plot spoiler.  I want you to be inspired to read some of the titles for yourself, and to share some of your favourites with me.

And so to begin:

November 2014; completion of a re-read of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Prompted by one of my students to dust down my old copy of this classic, I was immediately excited to revisit it.  Pip is an endearing character, thwarted by his own naivety and his inability to recognise the desirable from the fundamental.  It is a bildungsroman novel, taking the reader through Pip's childhood and into his adult persona. He is vulnerable and eager, endearing qualities that never quite leave him, despite the arrogance and stupidity of some of his later actions.

File:Pumblechook, Pip and Mrs Joe, John McLenan.jpeg
Pumblechook, Pip and Mrs Joe by John McLenan (1860)
Made popular by television renditions, most people cannot remember past chapter one and the terrifying ordeal with Magwitch the convict on the bleak and misty marshes.  And yet the novel is so much more than this.  It explores an essential human need to excel, to be approved of and to fit in with society.  The corollary to this is Joe Gargery, Pip's loving stepfather who wears humility as if it were a well fitting jacket. And this is the hub of the story; how Pip readily moves away from the safe and loving environment of the lowly blacksmith, lured by the promises of the rich and wealthy and willingly walking into a trap of self delusion.

Characterisation provides humour and depth to the novel, from the stereotypes to the fully formed. Uncle Pumblechook is never more than a comical puff of arrogance whilst Jaggers conveys the superiority of the wise with exacting expectations of others, tinted with just enough humanity to appeal to the reader. Miss Havisham has to be one of the most famous literary creations in the English canon, and rightly so.  Her bitterness envelops her and taints everyone she is connected with.
Do read Carol Ann Duffy's poem Miss Havisham to enjoy a modern interpretation of her miserable existence.
Estella is a flat character; never much more than an effective plot device, but nonetheless, someone who exhibits the consequences of being infected by Havisham's particular brand of bitterness.
My favourite characters are two who might score well on a game of Pointless; Wemmick is amusing in his ability to compartmentalise, and his reference to his old father as Aged Parent is one that has humorous resonance in my husband's family life with fond reference to his own, now sadly departed, parents. My second choice is Hebert Pocket who is simply charming in his inability to dissemble.

I would recommend that everybody should have a go at some of the classics of English Literature, and this is no bad place to start.  It is pacy and the plot is comprehensive. The characters stay with you long after the final page is turned.
And there is redemption for Pip in the closing pages. Dickens is a master in drawing loose ends to tidy conclusions.

And so we are back to tidiness; it may not be January 1st, but I have enjoyed making my first entry in my blog, Karen Martin Reads. I hope I can write regularly and share the love of reading for pleasure. I anticipate a variety of fiction, both lofty and not-so!

And so that you can anticipate entry number two, my current read is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.


  1. I loved this. And I'd never read the poem before - powerful!

  2. Thanks! I'll try and add relevant links each time.