Book Review – Dombey and Son By Charles Dickens

Title: Dombey and Son
Author: Charles Dickens
Format: 
Paperback
Written: 
Oct.1846- April 1848
Published: 
1995 (Wordsworth Classics)

One of Dickens’ lesser known novels, Dombey and Son is the tale of the proud and wealthy merchant Dombey who puts all his hopes into his son and neglects his daughter. As with most Dickens novels there’s a large cast of secondary characters, many of which are more memorable and charming that Dombey himself. As far as I’m concerned the indomitable maid, Susan Nipper, is the real hero of the story, though I can’t quite call her the protagonist.  There is no clear single “main” character.  In contrast with Dombey’s wealth and pride is the humble and poor but happy and loving, cobbled together family of young Walter Gay, his elderly uncle, and their colorful friend Captain Cuttle.

First, some notes on how to read Dickens, since I met many people who expressed intimidation at the dense 769 page tome in my hand. Most Dickens novels were originally released in serial form over the course of several months. They are not intended to be gulped down in a few sittings but savored over an extended period of time, like a television series. And I think the best way to appreciate Dickens is by reading a chapter a week or one per night (depending on your speed), and remember this was from an age before T.V. when the author must act as set dresser and costume designer. I pressed through Dombey and Son in less than three weeks, since I’m trying to read a high number of books this year. But I think high school ruins Dickens for most people by forcing them to quickly gulp down often abridged versions of the story, and abridging Dickens is crime, since most of the humor, wit, and insight if in the subtleties of the sentences (though less so with this particular novel).

For no reason other than the title, I got it into my head that Dombey and Son would be a comedy, but it turned out to be the least funny Dickens novel I’ve read yet, which I could also say is its main failing. The humor often falls flat, being more cringe worthy than humorous. But then I don’t think it was intended to be funny, so that may be a matter of taste rather than a failing of the writing. This is not Dickens tightest writing or plotting.   The story meanders (which is rather normal for Dickens but this meandered more than most of his books), and Dickens soapboxes to excess. It struck me as more redundant than his other stories, which disappointed me.  Florence, while a delightful character, is praised to dulling excess.

At the same time, it’s also one of Dickens more sophisticated and cutting social commentaries, poking mainly at the feigned moral superiority of the wealthy/middle-class, but also examining domestic life, abuse, negligence, and the nature of family in a variety of shapes as well as taking more than a few jabs at the school system. The “Hymen” toast (Hymen is the Greek god of marriage, btw) was pretty edgy, particularly for the time period. Even as a modern reader, I was glad not to be drinking when I read it.

Dombey and Son rips your heart out, steps on it, kicks it around for a bit, then restores it to it’s proper place and condition.

Ultimately, I’ll give it a 4 out of 5 for general quality, sophistication of theme, and wrapping up all the loose ends, but with the condition that while I would recommend this to many, it’s a terrible starter novel if you haven’t read Dickens before. If you love Dickens, don’t skip this one. You see the early development of themes and characters played out more tightly in later novels, but they are in some ways more satisfying here. If you haven’t read Dickens, I suggest cutting your teeth on Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, or A Christmas Carol, and then working up to Great Expectations and Bleak House before moving on to David Copperfield and then onto something like Dombey and Son.

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Writer Wednesday – Jackie Gamber

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
With Jackie Gamber, author of the Leland Dragon series

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’ve been a soldier, a secretary, and a stay-at-home mom, gone rogue into writing professionally.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
My published works include poetry, short stories, novelettes, and novels in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the genre-bending blends of them. I’m also an indie screenwriter/director, with four produced short films.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Since I’ve just finished “Reclamation”, book three of my Leland Dragons trilogy, I have a few more novel projects in the works; a steampunk fantasy, a SF-romance, and a paranormal-lit about a twin whose sister has died, and begins journaling as a tribute. I’m also writing my second full-length screenplay entitled “The Mark”, as well as other short film scripts.

What are your earliest book ­related memories?
I remember the Scholastic book program in school where I could peruse the book catalogue and order books that would come a month or so later right to my classroom. I always started with a “one of everything” sort of list, and then had to whittle down to one, or two – sometimes for 99cents! Also, I could describe in detail the layout of my town’s library. It used to have a clawfoot bathtub that I would spend more than my fair share of time in, with huge stacks of books beside me. I love libraries.

What are your three favorite books?
Just three? This is always a tough question for me to answer! I have favorite books for different reasons, but I have to say “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
When I read fiction I read one at a time. Non-fiction books could be as many as three or so, back and forth. Right now I’m reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain, about introversion in an extravert culture.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…forget about everything else. I even get irritated when I have to pause to use the restroom.

To re­read or not to re­read that is the question.
I re-read all the time! I don’t keep every book I buy because my bookshelves couldn’t possibly hold them all. I’m selective in that I only keep the ones I know I’ll go back to again.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
In my profession, I get a lot of recommendations. I don’t have enough time in the world to read them all, unfortunately. But I will, if it’s from a reader source I trust and the story sounds like my kind of thing. That’s really how all readers find books, mostly—word of mouth.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely! I do it all the time. Speaking of which, have you read “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham?

What do you look for in a good book?
To me, a good book is full of believable characters that get involved in their own tale.

Why do you write?
I write because I’m a storyteller. I resisted the notion for years, but the truth is that I see life, and the world, through metaphor and symbolism. I’m always asking, “But what does that really mean?” and “What makes a person think like that?” It’s in my nature.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I have a knack for looking at others’ stories, and seeing why what they think they’re saying isn’t actually being communicated that way. If I wasn’t a writing, I’d be an editor (although, I do both, already). Outside of words, though, I’d be working more with animals; at a zoo or a rescue, probably.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
To be honest, I don’t exactly know the mechanism that whirrs into motion from observation to idea. But I spend a lot of time watching the world, and studying it, and trying to figure it out. Somewhere in there, inspiration happens.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I’ve gone through dry periods, and times when I’ve set down my pen, so to speak, for the greater good of other responsibilities. I’ve struggled with how to find readers, how to prove to my contemporaries I’m not a hack. I’ve battled my demons that terrify me, and there have been days I’ve almost decided to just stop, because the desire to be heard is too hard to carry into an industry of cacophony.

I’ve lived with writing, and without it. What I’ve learned, is that I turn too inward, and become bitter and miserable, unless I believe in a world where writing happens, and that I can be a part of it.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband and two kids (my children are grown, now) have always been my support system. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. The stigma that science fiction or fantasy isn’t real writing lingers.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I wouldn’t wish a stereotype on anyone. Human beings share commonalities, of course, but I like to think my job as a writer, and fellow human, is to bust stereotypes, not feed them.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The writing industry is in a stage of rapid, almost violent, evolution. What used to be “the way” just isn’t anymore. Authors are writing books aimed at other authors for “how to do it the way I did” and a new one emerges practically every week. The biggest challenge I see for writers today is holding on to their own conviction, and their own ideals, while everyone is shouting into their face that their doing it wrong.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Some mistakes take a long time to make themselves known. My perception is that I may have trusted the wrong people a little too much, or a little too long. Sometimes, I haven’t trusted enough.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’ve always said it’s a life goal of mine to write a book that one day is banned!

How do you deal with your fan base?
I don’t think of myself as having fans. But I love readers! I have so much in common with fellow readers. In the end, that’s what I am, anyway; a book lover who can’t resist writing a few of her own.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m a pretty transparent person—or at least, I aim to be—so I’m not sure how surprising I am! Although I do tend to get a reaction of disbelief when I share with people how introverted I am. They say “You’re not shy!” But I am incredibly introverted, nonetheless. And I’ve spent an inordinate number of years figuring out it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Jackie Gamber is the award-winning author of many short stories, screenplays, and novels, including “Redheart”, “Sela”, and “Reclamation”, Books one through three of the Leland Dragon Series. For more information about Jackie and her mosaic mind, visit http://www.jackiegamber.com

And meet Jackie elsewhere on the world wide web at:
https://www.facebook.com/AllotropeMedia
http://www.amazon.com/author/JackieGamber
http://www.twitter.com/JackieGamber
http://www.facebook.com/jackiegamber

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