A bit of a departure for Dickens, Bleak House sports two distinct narrators and narration styles: a third-person omniscient, presenting the story in present tense, and a first-person limited, recounting portions of the tale in past tense.
Surprisingly, Dickens delivers a far more engaging narrative using the latter voice, a young woman named Esther Summerson, bringing a genuine feminine touch and an almost Austenian quality to the work. The style feels natural, and, unlike many other instances in Dickens’s novels, the primary female protagonist seems like a “real woman.“
By contrast, the omniscient third person, while not that far from Dickens’s usual style, reads unusually overly descriptive and dull (though the acerbic tone employed throughout, intended to skewer the British court system and politics of the time, is good for a few laughs). These tendencies of excess and drollness, however, eventually bleed into Esther’s narrative, resulting in a climax and epilogue, which should have taken no more than fifty pages, ballooning to three times that number.
It’s a fine novel, but far from the upper echelon of Dickensian canon.
(This review originally published on this site as part of Cole Powell’s 2019 Reading List.)