Friday, November 24, 2023

'The House on the Strand' by Daphne du Maurier

Dick Young is lent a house in Cornwall by his friend Professor Magnus Lane. During his stay he agrees to serve as a guinea pig for a new drug that Magnus has discovered in his scientific research.

When Dick samples Magnus's potion, he finds himself doing the impossible: traveling through time while staying in place, thrown all the way back into Medieval Cornwall. The concoction wear off after several hours, but its effects are intoxicating and Dick cannot resist his newfound powers. As his journeys increase, Dick begins to resent the days he must spend in the modern world, longing ever more fervently to get back into his world of centuries before, and the home of the beautiful Lady Isolda...


This is one of du Maurier's Cornish tales with a timeslip theme thrown in. It was published the year of my birth, so I was curious to see how the 'modern' thread had aged.

Dick Young, the main character, is staying at Kilmarth, the boyhood home of his friend, biophysicist Magnus Lane. (With a name like Magnus, I reckon his parents destined him to become a ground-breaking, experimental scientist. Doesn't it seem perfect for the stereotype?) As part of the deal, Magnus coerces Dick into sampling the wonder-drug he's been working on, which spirals its users back centuries, yet always on their own local turf.

Dick consistently ends up in the fourteenth century, and always touches base with a mysterious guy named Roger, prompting Dick to wonder whether Roger's brain is the random link to the mind of any time-tripper. Nobody from the 1300s, including Roger, ever seems to see futuristic visitors. Dick verifies Magnus' experience, that every sense, except for touch, is heightened whenever they visit the past. However, only their brains are really taking the trips. Their physical bodies are still lumbering blindly about in their contemporary world (1969), vulnerable to sudden peril such as collisions.

Dick keeps trying to convince himself that he's not addicted to his trips, but can't help admitting he is addicted to his infatuation with the beautiful Lady Isolda Carminowe, who keeps him returning for another 'fix' of her. 

My googling tells me Dame Daphne got really excited about this story, considering it to be one of her finest. She intended for readers to be sucked into the implicit questions she was raising. Was Dick really progressing back in time, or was it some elaborate mental hallucination? Is the concept of time, rather than being a linear projection, 'all-dimensional' with past, present and future spinning like a wheel simultaneously? All Dick can say for sure is that the people he enjoys spying on have been dead for over 600 years, yet they're alive in his escape world. Sounds like a recipe for a page-turner, right?

Sadly, it fell flat for me. Neither of the two time periods held my interest. The political intrigue and family saga of Roger and Isolda's world felt like wading through quicksand. There are far too many family connections to keep track of and too much standing around talking. As for Dick, he lives up to his name too well. Each of his unfolding personal disclosures made me eyeroll more. 

He flicks his cigarette butts around the countryside, he hasn't visited his mother in over a year because he's too lazy, he's getting tired of his wife, Vita, after just a few years of marriage, and prefers his 'trips' to stalk the more attractive Isolda. He professes to have not a flicker of interest in his two young stepsons, who incidentally strike me as nicer people than he is. He gets grouchy and irritable with everyone in his real world. He resents Vita for her concern regarding him, which turns out to be completely justified. I kept finding the pages of Dick's narration progressively harder to turn. 

All this story really has going for it is du Maurier's hallmark description of Cornwall. Sadly, Cornwall alone is insufficient to maintain my interest in a story with a crawling plot and unlikeable characters. The premise sounded great... but it fell short. Sorry Dame Daphne, it's a no from me.


Friday, November 17, 2023

'Yellowface' by Rebecca F. Kuang

Athena Liu is a literary darling and June Hayward is literally nobody.

White lies
When Athena dies in a freak accident, June steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name Juniper Song.

Dark humour
But as evidence threatens June’s stolen success, she will discover exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

Deadly consequences…
What happens next is entirely everyone else’s fault.


I was delighted to discover this novel in a little free street library, and cancelled the hold I had on it at the library. It's all over book platforms at the moment, so I prioritised it on my reading pile.  

June Hayward is a jaded, obscure young writer out for the evening with her brilliantly successful friend, Athena Liu, who has had several award-winning bestsellers with major publishers. When Athena dies suddenly after a freak accident, June snatches the chance to steal a freshly completed manuscript from Athena's desk. It's the first draft of a World War One novel entitled, 'The Last Front,' which focuses on the heroic efforts of the Chinese Labour Corps which were largely unacknowledged at the time. 

After making some sneaky alterations, June gets a contract under her own name with a prestigious publisher. Throughout the rest of this story she adroitly dodges discovery while enjoying the lifestyle of a famous author and justifying to her innermost self why her action wasn't despicable plagiarism. There are also pesky accusations of cultural appropriation to fend off, not to mention pressure to produce her next blockbuster. Will the truth lie dormant forever? 

To maintain the new lifestyle she's craved for so long, June becomes a progressively worse human being, which she deems vitally necessary to avoid regression or discovery. Everything about her is false, calculating, opportunistic and manipulative, including her version of how close a friend she really was to Athena Liu. Yet disturbingly, June's insistence that duplicity is the price she must pay to remain a media darling rings true. Being unknown and forgotten, after a taste of the spotlight, is her greatest dread. It makes me wonder how many big name authors and other celebs behave through a filter of, 'How will this make me look?' 

Kuang reveals plenty about the book industry which may surprise the uninitiated. She presents a world in which there is a finite number of book contracts with competition rife, like seagulls swooping on chips; where one minority author's success may create barriers for others writing in the same genre, rather than the green lights we may expect. Crowds of consumers (in this case, readers) assume a macro-personality far more daunting and impersonal than those of the individuals who comprise it. Ms. or Mr. Public Opinion isn't necessarily a giant whose approbation we can seek without being tarnished, yet so many of us seek it anyway, in our own small ways. And tsunamis of social media passion are toxic. Think cancel culture.

I relate to a lot of the reading and writing culture described in this story, having written and made huge efforts to market my own published novels for years. Yet there are surely several others like June's mother and sister, who simply read the occasional novel to relax without giving the actual industry a thought. This makes me wonder how Yellowface itself has become such a bestseller, since not everyone is trying to peddle their own books. I guess the theme about exposing fraud and the tense thriller elements must carry weight. 

Overall, I'd never add this book to a list of my best reads of the year. I think it makes me read in a mean-spirited way, eager to find out how (and even if) the unscrupulous main character will be exposed. That's not as satisfying as following admirable, lovable heroes we long to cheer for all through. I prefer books to bring out the best in my own nature rather than the worst. More nobility and less schadenfreude, thanks. 

Still, I think I'd have to call myself a fan of Yellowface, especially after all the thought-provoking content. 


Friday, November 10, 2023

'Demon Copperhead' by Barbara Kingsolver

Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens' anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can't imagine leaving behind.


Whoa, this is a knock-off in a million. No wonder it won the Pulitzer and Women's Fiction prizes for 2023. I was simply curious to see how closely it could stick to the David Copperfield story in such a vastly different time and place, but I didn't expect such evocative writing packed into practically every sentence.  

As most of us are aware from the start, it's the story of David Copperfield juxtaposed onto a modern, Appalachian society. Kingsolver expresses her deep concern about the plight of the deplorable foster care system and the opioid crisis strictly within the boundaries of Dickens' famous classic. Modern retellings of classics often strike me as way too overstrained, but this one is written in a way that convinces me this Victorian saga could well have taken place in the 21st century inland USA. It weaves all the counterpart characters in so brilliantly and naturally, it's a joy to spot them all. 

Damon Fields, aka Demon Copperhead himself, narrates his own story, starting from the moment he was born to an 18-year-old junkie mother in a humble trailer, intact in his amniotic sac. Sound familiar? His engaging voice, full of sharp discernment and poignant, often dark humour, never falters throughout almost 550 pages. Demon is a budding comic strip artist whose latent genius gives him a knack for capturing anyone's idiosyncratic essence in both words and pictures. If you think the character of Davy Copperfield would take big shoes to fill, I promise you this boy aces it. 

Supporting roles are triumphs too. There's Demon's abusive stepfather, Stoner; and the exploitative and harsh foster father, Crickson, nicknamed 'Creaky' by the boys under his care. Here Demon meets the dangerously magnetic Fast Forward, who could make anyone want to do anything and be glad of it; and the good-natured Tommy Waddles, who sketches skeletons as a sort of memento mori gesture, to remind himself that this too will pass. Demon is later fostered with the perpetually desperate and broke McCobb family. These guys have to exercise their creativity just to pay their bills. 

We have Miss Betsy Woodall (estranged grandmother this time) and her clever, disabled brother, Mr Dick, whose tributes to his beloved authors is to cover kites with their quotes and then launch them into the sky. Miss Angus Winfield is an edgy, nerdy version of David's Agnes, and his ill-fated relationship with poor, helpless Dori takes on a whole new level - you'll see. And lurking lethally with his reptilian eyes gleaming is the slimy Ryan Pyles, or U-Haul, who keeps insisting that he's nobody special.  

Demon actually has what some might call the total package; good looks, witty personality, empathy, intelligence, athleticism and artistic giftedness to boot. The fact that he considers himself an abject failure and nonentity highlights the gaping limitations of his culture and poor start in life more than anything could. ('It dawned on me that I could get run over flat out there, and nobody would know or care what to call the carcass. Road kill?) 

From the point of view of a reader already familiar with David Copperfield, it's a winner. And I've noticed that several reviewers who have never read the classic have now added it to their TBR lists, on the strength of this story. I've challenged my kids to read David Copperfield followed by Demon Copperhead, because the effect is bound to impress them. I would always recommend that nobody who has ever read either should start with Dickens followed by Kingsolver.

Demon's take on Charles Dickens is worth mentioning. 'A seriously old guy, dead and a foreigner, but did he get the picture on kids and orphans getting screwed over and nobody giving a rat's ass. You'd think he was from around here.' Well, to take a broad view, Demon, since David Copperfield is regarded as Dickens' most autobiographical novel, and you're modeled on the character of David, then you are that old guy.  

This is one of my reading highlights of the year. And my photo is a tribute to Demon's lifelong yearning to visit the beach for real. 

(Here is my review of David Copperfield)


Friday, November 3, 2023

'Evil Under the Sun' by Agatha Christie

The beautiful bronzed body of Arlena Stuart lay facedown on the beach. But strangely, there was no sun and she was not sunbathing... she had been strangled.

Ever since Arlena's arrival the air had been thick with sexual tension. Each of the guests had a motive to kill her. But Hercule Poirot suspects that this apparent 'crime of passion' conceals something much more evil.


Hercule Poirot is staying at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Smuggler's Island, a popular summer beach resort on Britain's southern coast. Some sunbakers remark that nothing bad could possibly happen at such an idyllic destination, yet our little Belgian detective knows that there is 'evil everywhere under the sun.' 

One of his fellow guests, Mrs Arlena Marshall (nee Stuart), has the reputation of a femme fatale. She seduces men and breaks up families, reputedly relishing every moment. Fellows are bewitched by her and women fiercely resent her. So when Arlena is found strangled to death in a secluded cove, several other sun seekers may well have a motive.

There are two lovers' triangles. Dressmaker Rosamund Darnley has adored Arlena's husband Ken since their childhood, but Ken takes his marriage vows seriously. Poor, pale-faced Christine Redfern is upset that her hunky hubby Patrick keeps following Arlene around like a dog on heat. Fanatical clergyman, Stephen Lane, likens Arlena to Jezebel or the Whore of Babylon. And Ken Marshall's moody teenage daughter, Linda, simply loathes her stepmother. 

I have to say, what we readers see of Arlena in the pages never strikes me as pure evil, which the characters would have us believe. In fact, I find it unbalanced that she's the target of all the fall-out from illicit liaisons, and never the silly men who are led by their libidos rather than their brains. Here is what we are told about the reactions of a group of older men, when she simply walks past. 

'The eyes of Hercule Poirot opened, his moustache quivered appreciatively. Major Barry sat up and his protuberant eyes bulged even further with excitement; on Poirot's left the Reverend Stephen Lane drew in his breath with a little hiss and his figure stiffened.'

Yeah, eyeroll. How do we even know for sure the lady is playing on her beauty, as people accuse her, since she always elicits this behaviour for doing nothing at all? 

Incidentally, Poirot states his belief that modern women's bathing costumes leave nothing to the imagination. 'What appeal is there, to remove all the romance and mystery?' (This novel was published in 1940.) 

Reverend Lane is disturbed because he's noticed  it's fashionable for many people to abolish hellfire and Satan from their collective consciousness, yet he's certain demonic entities are still gleefully doing secret mischief. Hmm, not sure if he was talking for his author, Agatha Christie, but plenty of theologians, such as C. S. Lewis, would agree with him. 

Mrs Gardener, the American tourist, says, 'Those girls that lie out that in the sun will grow hair on their legs and arms.' I'll assume that's Mrs Gardener's personal delusion and not indicative of the era in general. 

This is not the best Christie mystery I've read, but nor is it the worst. One thing in its favour is that there was only one death, and not the flurry of spin-off murders Christie sometimes sets off. Apart from Poirot, of course, I didn't really bond with any of the characters. In fact, poor Arlena Marshall was as likeable as anyone else. The baddies' motive didn't totally ring true for me, yet it's easy enough to believe they're also motivated by the adrenaline rush of escaping detection. 

So good on you Poirot, for foiling their plan.


Friday, October 27, 2023

'The Ghost of Thomas Kempe' by Penelope Lively

When James and his family move to an ancient cottage in Oxfordshire, odd things start happening. Doors crash open, and strange signs appear, written in an archaic hand. James finds that the ghost is the spirit of Thomas Kempe.


When I found this novel in a secondhand shop, it was a blast from my past. I read it during Primary School silent reading sessions in the early 80s. What great nostalgia, to re-read prize-winning British kids' fiction published in 1973, which had its 50th birthday this year. 

The Harrison family has bought East End Cottage, a charming, ramshackle old doer-upper. But since they've moved in, somebody keeps pulling annoying stunts and writing weird messages. Young James is getting blamed for all of them, because he's a bit left-of-centre himself. 

Poor James is resentful and baffled. He knows the culprit couldn't possibly be a member of his own family. His wry, sensible father and slightly frazzled mother wouldn't bother, and nor would his smug sister Helen, who has a deficient sense of humour anyway. What's more, Tim, the scruffy stray dog who's adopted them, keeps barking and snapping at nothing. 

Soon it's clear that the arrogant perpetrator desires to be known by James. He's an opinionated poltergeist named Thomas Kempe, who lived there in the sixteenth century practicing sorcery. Kempe insists that James becomes his assistant, whether he likes it or not. And since Kempe's behaviour includes persecuting other villagers whom he suspects of witchcraft or knavery, James must think of a way to end it fast. He soon discovers there are no exorcists listed in the Yellow Pages.  

The story is so fun to read because James is such a cool and curious 20th century kid. His own quirky 'To Do' list is based completely on inquisitiveness without a trace of ego. This boy knows the fun of indulging in grandiose daydreams without a hint of angst that they might never come true, because he never truly takes them seriously. 

It's full of insights about human nature, both past and present. When James' father summarily dismisses the supernatural, James realises that commonsense is as impenetrable as a stone wall. 'If people had to be so unswerving in their beliefs, the only thing you could do is let them go on their own way.' In fact, Mr Harrison and Thomas Kempe's ghost are quite similar, in their closeminded approaches. 

I love it when James comes across a boy named Arnold, a kindred spirit his own age, but separated by a century. James discovers that reading all about Arnold creates a sort of oddly reciprocal friendship through the pages. And even though Arnold is (or rather was) on James' wavelength, James' school friend Simon is nonetheless satisfactory for other moments. We need all sorts of friends, including both soul mates and time mates. 

All the time impressions are very cool. James learns that people develop their own layers, like onions, added to by the passing years. Senior citizens, such as his neighbour Mrs Verity, are often most multi-layered. The point comes through that young people are still buried deep within their older selves.

The final line is worth quoting for its insight into the passage of years.  

Time reached away before and ahead: back to the crusading knight, and Thomas Kempe, and Aunt Fanny, and Arnold: forward to other people who would leave their names in this place, look with different eyes on the same streets, rooftops, trees. And somewhere in the middle there was James, walking home for tea, his head full of confused but agreeable thoughts, hungry and a little tired, but content. 

Yep, we all take our part for a short time, then shuffle off the set.  


Friday, October 20, 2023

'Little Dorrit' (Part Two) by Charles Dickens


I shared my thought here on Part One and this second half was equally riveting. 

We hear of lottery winners who don't handle their windfalls wisely because they retain the mindsets of poor folk. That's what happens to the Dorrit family following their freak family inheritance. At the start of this second section, entitled 'Riches', Papa, Tip, Fanny, Amy and Uncle Frederick are off and away to Europe to live the good life, but we sense that dressing them in lavish clothes will be a superficial  band-aid fix to cover the identities of lack and devastation that have shaped them over several years. 

Mr Dorrit and his two eldest kids now expect veneration based on their obscene amount of dough, although they're still exactly the same people they were back home in the Marshalsea without a cent. Will wealth really make a change for the better? Mr Dorrit's former source of great pride, his decades as a prison inmate, will now be the skeleton he longs to shut tight in his closet. Hiding it will surely add a new source of stress to his life. And it may be argued that Amy's whole purpose for living, which is performing acts of service, has just taken a major blow. Who will she be, as a rich lady of leisure?

Even though I'm discussing Part Two, I won't say much about the unfolding plot and risk giving spoilers. Suffice to say the farfetched twists and shocking destinies of the two biggest villains makes Dickens a real Victorian precursor of the long-running soap opera. (Kudos to the flamboyant, cloak-swirling Rigaud aka Blandois and his signature creepy facial gesture, where his nose and moustache intersect.) 

What a varied lot of characters this book presents. We have old Mrs General, a snooty sort of governess hired to prepare the two Dorrit girls for high society. She exemplifies the most shallow and inhumane aspects of Victorian society, such as, 'a truly refined mind must simply ignore the existence of anything that is not perfectly proper, pleasant and placid.' This, of course, includes suffering and homeless people. Mrs General loves words beginning with the letter 'P' because they supposedly make the shape of your mouth look good as you say them. 

Another standout for me is the cold and twisted Miss Wade, who regards anyone's generous behaviour towards her as unforgivable condescension, since she's so ultra-sensitive about her orphan origins. Viewing everything through the lens of her own paranoia, she mistakenly projects onto others her touchy insecurity about her social position. It was genius of Dickens to invent this beautiful self-saboteur. I'm sure we don't need to be destitute orphans to get where Miss Wade is coming from. Using our touchy triggers to second guess others is toxic behaviour. She's not really a villain, in the true sense of the word, hence Dickens doesn't visit down any fatal calamity on her head, but letting her carry on with her bitter delusions is punishment enough for her. 

Even though they were not main characters, my mind keeps returning to the huge chip on Miss Wade's shoulder, and the regretful experience of her would-be disciple, Tattycoram, who learns the hard way that the people who stir our emotions aren't necessarily the most accurate readers of any situation. That's not to say there is no grain of truth in Tatty's grudge against the Meagles. Giving her that nickname alone is enough to ensure she never forgets her workhouse background. Perhaps this girl's greatest takeaway is that life won't always deliver what seems fair, and the sooner we accept that, the easier we'll fare. Besides, life with the Meagles is certainly better than what they rescued her from. 

Dickens makes certain sections a triumphant faith statement. I love how Little Dorrit's heartfelt, modest Christian outlook contrasts with the sour, Old-Testament eye-for-an-eye logic of old Mrs Clennam. 

'Oh, Mrs Clennam, Mrs Clennam, angry feelings and unforgiving deeds are no comfort to you and me. Be guided only by the healer of the sick, the raiser of the dead, the friend of all who were afflicted and forlorn, the patient Master who shed tears of compassion for our infirmities. We cannot but be right if we put the rest away and do everything in remembrance of Him.' 

As a culmination of all that has just gone down, this is powerful stuff. I was pleased during my googling to discover a small section of stained glass window dedicated to Little Dorrit herself, in London's St. George the Martyr church. (See above.) Adjacent to the Marshalsea Prison, it's the real life location where the fictional girl was christened, sought refuge on an icy night and eventually married her true love, Arthur Clennam. What a great tribute to Charles Dickens and also to the doggedly faithful Little Dorrit herself. 

There are many other excellent characters who I haven't even tapped into yet, such as Arthur's talkative old flame, Flora, her corrupt but saintly looking father, Mr Casby, and their huffing and puffing employee, the diamond in the rough Mr Pancks. Not to mention Mrs Clennam's creepy business partner, Jeremiah Flintwinch, and his poor, abused wife, Affery. I also loved Daniel Doyce, the clever inventor who's suffered so much at the hands of the 'Circumlocution Office' in attempts to patent his product, he feels more like a criminal. But most of all, I love Arthur and Amy, two totally good-hearted people and a perfect match. 

I can't help getting into the shipping mood for other couples this story might have produced, if it went on for even longer. Somebody on a forum I stumbled across suggested Tattcoram and young John Chivery, to which I echo, 'Sure, why not?' And how about poor Flora with either Doyce or Pancks, although neither gentleman would probably wish to put up with Mr F's Aunt for the long term. 

It was clear to me early on that Little Dorrit would tick the boxes of a wonderful, immersive Dickens tale. Some of his books haven't quite hit the mark for me, but this one was bullseye, despite its unbelievable plot twists. Gee whiz, if it makes me question whether or not I'm sensing accurate signals from others or simply listening to my inner Miss Wade, it's worth the read for that alone.  


Friday, October 13, 2023

'Little Dorrit' (Part 1) by Charles Dickens

Amy Dorrit grows up in Marshalsea Prison, where her father is imprisoned for debt. But in this classic tale of poverty and wealth, sacrifice and greed, fortune can change in a moment - even Little Dorrit's.


It's time to tick off another Dickens doorstop. This one is split neatly into two sections entitled 'Poverty' and 'Riches' so I'll make two blog posts out of my discussion. From the very start I sensed that the Dorrit family will prove to be the Victorian equivalent of sudden lottery winners, whose limited headspaces don't keep pace with their freak financial windfalls. I was keen to see whether the unfolding story would match my expectations.

Here goes with 'Poverty.'  

Poor Arthur Clennam has had a harsh upbringing from unloving, demanding parents. He's on his way home to England, having worked since he was young with his father in China for 20 years. Arthur's dad seemed to die with some deep, unsettling regret which he couldn't articulate from his deathbed.

When Arthur tries to ask his morbidly pious old mother about it, she flies off the handle. Yet bedridden Mrs Clennam and her cranky servant, Jeremiah Flintwinch, seem to be up to their ears in some shady secret. And the house itself keeps making weird, creaky sounds. 

Arthur is intrigued by Amy, aka 'Little Dorrit', the young woman who works each day as a seamstress for his mother. It doesn't take long to discover that Little Dorrit lives in the Marshalsea Prison. She was born and raised there, because her father has been a prisoner of debt for twenty-three years. Now Arthur Clennam can't help wondering if his parents' dodgy family secret has something to do with cheating the Dorrit family; hence his mother's inadequate attempt to make amends through Dorrit's daughter. Arthur makes it his business to find out, yet it's a maze of dead-ends and false leads out there. 

In another thread, a French criminal named Rigaud who killed his wife is on the loose. Cavalletto, his former cell mate in Marseilles, is always trying to keep one step ahead of him.  

A book in which main characters quickly win my affection is bound to be a good one.

Arthur is a lovely guy with a stubborn resolve to think the best. He's chosen to be an idealist as a quiet mutiny against the harsh way in which he was raised. (He was a man who had deep-rooted in his nature a belief in all the gentle and good things his life had been without.) So we have, in effect, a middle-aged, male version of Anne Shirley, which I find quite attractive. Gracious in disappointment, always willing to lend a hand, it's time 40-year-old Arthur gets a break, although he never really expects one. There are sometimes flashback glimpses of the younger, pushed-around, thwarted Arthur to keep us barracking for him.

Next there's Little Dorrit, that resourceful, diminutive young woman with soft hazel eyes who does her best to justify why the Mashalsea is not such a bad place to call home. She's like the lotus flower who can flourish in mud. Yet I can't help wondering how she survives on occasional nibbles of bread and butter and sips of tea. Maybe she's so tiny because she's stunted and starved, owing to a lifetime of putting aside the best for others. She's definitely one of Dickens' cohort of heroines who takes self-sacrifice to an unhealthy extreme, yet I sense Amy Dorrit has much to teach our generation. 

In our era, the focus is so much on boosting our status and maximising our potential, quiet, dutiful people who accept their lot in life with no expectation of fanfare aren't very fashionable anymore. No twenty-first century counterpart character springs to mind. Perhaps Amy Dorrit is the sort of person who draws me toward Victorian novels. She counterbalances the restlessness and discontentment which seems to be in the modern air we breathe. Hence, she's refreshing. 

But the 'good' characters aren't the only memorable ones.

Whoa, what a character Mr Dorrit is, that hilarious, destitute snob who plays up his own dubious status as longest serving prisoner to make himself a celebrity. In a way I admire the dude for his sheer front, and for always choosing the most flattering way to regard himself in a callous world determined to keep him in his place. That takes some solid self-esteem. Yet he does it through such audacious self-delusions, I can't help facepalming.

Arthur is friends with the Meagles family. There's another fascinating thread with 'Tattycoram', aka Harriet Beadle, the young workhouse orphan who was adopted as a companion for their beloved girl, Miss Minnie Meagle. Can two diametrically opposite interpretations of one person's life both contain grains of truth?

1) She's blessed and fortunate to have been rescued from the workhouse by such a caring family as the Meagles. 

2) She's born beneath an unlucky star, the butt of condescension, forced to kowtow to a girl her own age who she has no respect for. 

This exotic and resentful girl with her flyaway, shiny black hair and snapping black eyes chooses the second, resentful interpretation, and behaves accordingly by cutting loose. Sometimes Dickens releases a startling, colourful, non-conforming bird among his drab, dutiful little sparrows, (such as Amy Dorrit), and Harriet is surely one of them. Her aloof and mysterious mentor, Miss Wade, seems to be a piece of work too, with an agenda of her own. Dickens' 'good' girls may shine, but his 'bad' girls sizzle. 

At this stage I'm feeling the whole plot is like some giant Jenga game, with old, sacred cows being gently dismantled and uncomfortable new developments being laid precariously on top. There's a whole lot of stuff being done behind the scenes on the Dorrits' behalf. There are secrets which will surely come to light. When the whole thing comes tumbling down, it'll be with a mighty crash.

Update, here is Part Two.