I recently finished reading A Tale of Two Cities. This is the review I posted on Goodreads:
This book might deserve 5 stars for the opening and closing chapters — or even just the opening and closing sentences — alone. As it turns out, the rest of Dickens’ classic tale of the French Revolution is worthy as well.
A Tale of Two Cities revolves around Dr. Manette, newly released from the Bastille, his daughter Lucie, her husband Charles Darnay, and their circle of friends. The action moves between London and Paris, with a few sidetracks into the French countryside, during the lead up to the French Revolution and into the Reign of Terror.
Although I thought it bogged down a little in the middle, I was rewarded in the end. Magnificently plotted, the seemingly disjointed episodes in the second book all contribute to the climax and conclusion. Even the seemingly minor characters such as Mr. Cruncher and the mender of roads make important contributions that move the story along. The final third of the book reads like a thriller or adventure novel.
In addition to writing a phenomenal narrative, Dickens also paints a wonderful and terrifying picture of the French Revolution, from the atrocities of the Ancien Régime to the atrocities of La Guillotine. In the beginning, you feel for the peasants and commoners and loathe the nobility. The nobles’ sense of entitlement for themselves and contempt for the peasants, perfectly expressed in the character of Marquis Evrémonde, is appalling. As a father, I found his carriage ride from Paris to his estate particularly so.
But as the revolution moves from the overthrow of the monarchy to the Reign of Terror, the center of power shifts, and while you never quite feel sympathy for the nobles, you realize that the Republicans have taken things a little too far. The bloodlust of Madame Defarge shows you how dangerous the time had become.
Superb as both a story and record of the period, A Tale of Two Cities is the latest addition to my Favorites shelf.