It was listening to David Nicholls read from Great Expectations at the World Book Night event that reminded me of the power of actually reading Dickens, not just watching an adaptation. David read from the scene where Pip meets Miss Havisham for the first time and, having not read the book since my teens, I'd forgotten the incredible power of the description rather than just the affect of someone else's interpretation of her when you see her on screen.
The same was true re-reading A Tale of Two Cities and, in the last hundred pages as the tension builds and builds, it was striking to realise that this was a book written decades before cinema was even imagined, yet the whole second half of the book has an incredible cinematic feel as Dickens moves around the action and view point to build the tension to an almost unbearable level. I can't imagine how thrilling - and agonising - it would have been to read it in installments and I almost wish one of the Dickens Bicentenary projects would have been to produce a new great novel in this way.
For me the contemporary writer who I most want to compare to Dickens is Hilary Mantel. Her A Place of Greater Safety is a really obvious book to read next after A Tale of Two Cities as it's also set in the revolutionary France but equally Wolf Hall and the just published Bring up the Bodies seem to do what Dickens does best in the richness of their plot, characters and writing whilst also delivering a really thrilling page-turner.
If you loved A Tale of Two Cities and want to read more set in the French Revolutionary era try: A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Ninety-three by Victor Hugo, Pure by Andrew Miller
If you loved A Tale of Two Cities and want to read other exciting novels written contemporaneously with it try: The Moonstone or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, anything by Alexandre Dumas (and he even wrote some revolutionary novels), anything by Victor Hugo but particularly Les Miserables
If you loved A Tale of Two Cities and want to read other Dickens try: Our Mutual Friend, Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey & Son
And our more off the wall suggestions for great books set in Paris and London:
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
London Fields by Martin Amis
Next week, recommendations for if you loved I Capture the Castle...
Lush Victorian crime with love and lesbian romps.
There are so many wonderful books you can move onto from this. Not least Sarah Waters’ other excellent novels – Tipping the Velvet or Affinity being the most obvious choices with their very different stories but similar Victorian settings. Or jump forward in history to The Night Watch (my personal favourite) which has just been beautifully adapted by the BBC, or try her most recent – The Little Stranger – which is currently in the top 100.
Or you can see what’s inspired Sarah by reading from her top 10
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time
Olivia Manning, Fortunes of War
Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
If you liked Fingersmith because of the Victorian setting, strong heroines and dark underbelly and want something written at the time try: Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White; Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend; Charlotte Bronte, Wuthering Heights
If you liked Fingersmith because of the Victorian setting, strong heroines and dark underbelly and want something written recently try: Michel Faber, Crimson Petal and the White; AS Byatt, Possession
If you liked Fingersmith for the criminal elements try: Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime
If you’re interested in reading more contemporary female fiction try: Jeanette Winterson, Val McDermid (crime), Emma Donaghue or Stella Duffy
If you want to read other books that have been shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes try: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall; Emma Donaghue, Room; Ali Smith, The Accidental; Zadie Smith, On Beauty
And finally, our massively tenuous, completely off the wall suggestions*:
Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
Goldfinger, Ian Flemming
The Moving Finger, Agatha Christie
The Magic Finger, Roald Dahl
*obviously linked by the fact that they all contain the word finger in the title
We've been asking authors for the 10 books they most love to read, give and share. We're creating an Author Top 10 page so you can browse them all, but in the meantime we'll be posting them here.
Today we bring you Neil Gaiman's choice. Gaiman is currently the most popular author on the list with the most votes across his books his 2001 bestseller American Gods is currently at number 4 with Good Omens, the book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett at number 13.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe -- The best science fiction novel of the last century. A four volume book about memory and truth.
Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirrlees -- My favourite fairy tale/detective novel/history/fantasy.
Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones -- She was the best writer of magical children's fiction of our generation. I don't know if this is the best of her novels, but it's my favourite.
London Labour and the London Poor -- Henry Mayhew Like a big mad Dickens novel that just keeps going. Real life interviews with the Victorian working poor.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke - it's going to be on the top 100 list, but I love it anyway. Like Jane Austen's huge lost fantasy novel abnout the return of magic to England.
Horns - Joe Hill - An immensely powerful writer. This, his second novel, is about a man who wakes up after a bad night with horns pushing out of his forehead.
253 Geoff Ryman There are 252 seats on a rush hour tube train. 253 if you include the driver. This is the story of all of them, 253-word portraits of connections and people.
Bleak House Charles Dickens - From the highest in the land to the lowest, the court of Chancery destroys lives. A wonderful read even if you don't like Spontaneous Human Combustion.
Lord of Light Roger Zelazny - on a distant planet, far in the future, Earth Colonists rule the world as the gods of the Hindu Pantheon. One of their number becomes Buddha to fight them. A mixture of religion and adventure and science fiction.
The Man Who Was Thursday G. K. Chesterton - a police agent infiltrates the high council of anarchists in this glorious nightmare romp.
Ten books -- all in print (which did for a few other books I'd chosen first).
Tomorrow's list of ten might be completely different.
This one’s really tricky. It spans 20 years, it’s hilarious but also heartbreaking, it’s very fresh and contemporary but also feels classic, like it will stand the test of time.
Obviously you can start by reading other books by David Nicholls – Starter for Ten or The Understudy, but One Day is widely acknowledged to be his best book.
So David’s kindly told us what his top 10 books are. These are the books he loves, returns to, gives and cherishes. What better way of getting a little further into your favourite authors minds than by getting to know the books that they love? So you could start dipping into one of these...
Tender is the Night, F Scott Fitzgerald
Franny and Zooey, JD Salinger
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth
Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut
The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark
Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton
Collected Stories, John Cheever
The Patrick Melrose Trilogy, Edward St Aubyn
But none of them are much like One Day, so if you really do want something comparable where should you go next?
If you liked One Day because of the humorous view of contemporary life (and it perhaps reminded you a little of your own) try: Nick Hornby: Juliet, Naked or High Fidelity or Matt Beaumont: Small World
If you liked One Day because you cried your eyes out at the end try: Audrey Niffeneger, The Time Traveller’s Wife
If you liked One Day because it’s funny (and you liked the 90s setting too) try: Christopher Brookmyre, Quite Ugly One Morning
If you liked One Day because it’s just one of those amazing books that affects you and stays with you try: Chris Cleave, The Other Hand
And finally, our massively tenuous, completely off the wall suggestions*:
The Devil Wear’s Prada, Lauren Weisberger
Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
Hard Sell, Jamie Reidy
Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens
The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Anything by Jane Austen!
Next Friday: If you loved Fingersmith
*based on the fact that Anne Hathaway stars as Emma in the film of One Day and these are the other books she's been in adpatations of, we make a presumption that she liked and would recommend them all...
About the Book
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille the aging Dr Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil lanes of London, they are all drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror and soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
What we think
'From the famous opening lines (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times) to the stunningly heroic hand in mouth ending this is a fantastic swashbuckling adventure from a master storyteller. Hang up every preconception you may have about Dickens and enjoy this brilliant book.'
What to read next...
Charles Dicken's publisher has chosen Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone as their recommendation. A sample of it is printed in the back of World Book Night editions for A Tale of Two Cities.
Where to get the WBN books
Read A Tale of Two Cities now – borrow it from your local library or buy it from your local bookshop. More details here.
Also by Charles Dickens
Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, The Christmas Books (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain), Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Charles Dickens (1812-70) was a political reporter and journalist whose popularity was established by the phenomenally successful Pickwick Papers (1836-7). His novels captured and held the public imagination over a period of more than thirty years.
Richard Maxwell teaches in the Comparative Literature & English departments at Yale.
Listen to the BBC's In Our Time series on Dickens