I've finally discovered a greater pleasure than reading Dickens – and that's re-reading Dickens. Great Expectations, the 14th in our epic Dickens readathon, was, shamefully, the only one of his books I'd read properly before (at school), and visiting it again was an unalloyed joy. George Orwell said that once Dickens has described something you see it for the rest of your life, and here the images of Pip looking at the little graves of his family, the lawyer Jaggers obsessively washing his hands, Wemmick posting his dinner into his letter-box mouth, were just like flashback.
Yet there were surprises too. I'd forgotten just how quickly the hero Pip goes bad, becoming an unbearable, snobbish idiot even before his life is changed by coming into money. In fact, he's a complete tool for pretty much most of the book. Yet the changes in his character are turned into something so psychologically true, so gripping, and rendered with such unbearable honesty that it's car-crash compelling. When Pip describes his shame as his childhood protector Joe comes to visit him in his new life as a London gentleman ('If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have'), it's like a stab through the heart.
I'd also forgotten just how dark, mysterious, ghostly, weird and violent the novel is. Dickens describes how the feelings of guilt and fear that accompany childhood trauma (in this case an escaped prisoner threatening to eat your heart and liver) can taint your entire life and warp everything that comes afterwards. It's such a haunted book. Perhaps I still love David Copperfield slightly more, but it's very close. This book is like David Copperfield's sad, dark, grown-up and heartbreaking shadow. I cried like a baby at the end. What more can I say?
Next time, the last Big Beast and the second-to-last novel in our list – Our Mutual Friend …
Louise Willder, Copywriter