‘Little Dorrit’ causes dangerous driving.
When embarking on a novel by Dickens, I fully expect the literary equivalent of a rich fruit cake: plot twists on every page and an explosion of eccentric memorable characters. Having got a third of the way through ‘Little Dorrit’ I have to say I’m feeling pretty frustrated. The characters are all vibrant enough, the problem is that nothing’s happening.
I’m listening to the story on audio-book in the car, which, on the whole, is a useful way to pack more books into my day. Admittedly if I have to negotiate any roundabouts, I lose track of the plot and have to re-read from the book when I get home, which pretty much defeats the point of the audio-book, but there it is.
Apart from an initial scene in a prison cell in Marseilles, the story so far is set either within an institution or dwarfed beneath its looming shadow.
The Marshalsea debtors’ prison has a bleak stagnant presence throughout the novel. Dickens‘ own father was imprisoned there for a time, and looking back it seems a shocking anomaly that one could be imprisoned until one could repay one’s debts, a feat rendered impossible by incarceration. The sluggishness of the plot clearly echoes that stasis for effect, but I can’t say I’m enjoying it much.
The kind and selfless ‘Little Dorrit’ works tirelessly and without complaint as a seamstress for the brittle Mrs Clennam, in order to look after her imprisoned father, and her wayward, ungrateful siblings. Meanwhile, Mrs Clennam’s son Arthur, suspecting his mother of foul play against Little Dorrit’s family is intent on uncovering the truth. On Mrs Clennam’s refusal to discuss it, the mother and son have become estranged.
His investigations take him to the monumentally inefficient Circumlocution Office, which is nigh on impossible to extract any information from due to the plethora of forms and dockets to fill in, along with protracted periods of waiting time required for even the most basic of inquiries. It’s like trying to order a new passport in the height of summer -tedious – as is my current experience of reading the darn book!
I do hope something happens soon, or I’ll be in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.