In the spring of 2007 I read Pride and Prejudice and decided I had to read all of Jane Austen. So I did, everything. I was finished by the end of the same year. I then thought: I'll have a go at Dickens. I started on that and I'm still at it. It's harder because there's much, much more, and, liking variety in my reading, I don't just go from one Dickens novel to the next. Still, I won't be giving up. I just finished Bleak House - nearly 1,000 pages long in the edition I have - and it's magnificent. Dickens is easy to criticize if you don't take to him. In Bleak House Esther Summerson is too good to be true, and Dickens's women characters are often highly sentimentalized. More generally, his characters aren't rounded; they're caricatures, and he really lays it on thick and long and repeatedly in telling you about them. But for those of us who love Dickens it doesn't matter, because of the truth in the exaggeration and the caricature, of which there is plenty. I can't do better to convey the richness of Dickens than to refer again to what Susan Hill says about him - see the long quote here. From Bleak House, although it is populated by a huge cast, the figure of Tulkinghorn alone is enough to keep you reading. Likewise Lady Dedlock. And the story of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, central to the book, is a thing of inspiration, of genius.
Eleven books in, I thought I'd share with you my Dickens top three to this point (not in rank order):
Dombey and Son
If it was a top five, I'd add Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. My least favourite to date is The Old Curiosity Shop.