It’s been a while since I managed to finish a book – and I think that might be in part down to the slow start I made on this (although I don’t think ‘slow start’ is completely accurate – it would be more accurate to say that I wasn’t enticed enough to make an effort to return to it amongst all my other commitments – mostly work and work in a location to which I would drive, instead of taking public transport – and I’ve still not properly invested in any audiobooks) and a lack of time to get to the library. In case you can’t tell I wasn’t immediately impressed with Hard Times (I thought maybe signalling an end to my Dickens spree) but I can happily report that it did pick up – and after only about 50 or so pages (not like Great Expectations, in which I didn’t get interested until halfway through).
Hard Times seemed to start of very typically Dickensian (although reading about it on Wikipedia afterwards – sometimes I found myself skimming things and no amount of rereading got me completely up to speed because I was too lazy to go back more than a page – I realised that it’s one of his few books not set in London, so maybe not so typical) – but not really in a good way. Somehow I managed to completely misread the blurb, and thought that Tom and Sissy would have some sort of romance at some point, but as he grew up in to an abhorrently selfish and lazy young man and she seemed to disappear from the plot slightly for a while I was waiting for something that was never to happen (I still had this impression right at the end and somehow thought they were about to run away together without pretence – by which point I was worried because I didn’t especially like him). To give you a better informed idea of the story – now that I’m sure of what does happen (almost) – Mr Grandgrind has raised his children to believe in nothing but facts (as a result of which neither of them have had an especially stimulating childhood), when his eldest daughter Lousia is of age he relays his friend Mr Bounderby (30 years her senior)’s proposition of marriage – which she excepts, seeing no better option, as so as to help out her brother Tom who’s already started getting himself in trouble financially. Louisa’s life remains fairly unstimulating until a young gentleman called Mr Harthouse arrives on the scene who is very interested in Louisa.
I probably started to get more interested when Louisa was just about to marry Bounderby and we had to tolerate scenes with his ridiculously obnoxious companion Mrs Sparsit (amusing name) – and when Harthouse was introduced I thought I knew how the story would play out – but, just as with the blurb – I got it completely wrong – and I think that’s when I started to properly enjoy the book. So although I wouldn’t rate this as highly as Oliver Twist or Bleak House, it does stand out to me in that (unlike Bleak House especially) I wasn’t able to second guess it at all – whether that’s also attributable to my lack of attention at the start I’m not sure, but it definitely got me very interested in what was going to happen next very quickly.