Monday, May 14, 2012

A Year of Dickens: New Release: The Solitary House

I asked for a Library Thing review copy of The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd (called Tom-All-Alone's in the UK) knowing only the briefest of details about it but knowing also that it was bound to fit my interests perfectly. So imagine my joyful surprise when I read the first sentence of the book and immediately recognized it as being almost the exact starting words as one of my favorite Dickens novels, Bleak House --
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.
However, Shepherd's story starts as Michaelmas term has lately begun because this is not the story of Esther Summerson and her family and friends, although that story does live in the background of this one. Rather, it is the story of Charles Maddox, a detective who is trying track down a child that has gone missing many years before. While trying to care for his ailing uncle and mentor, he is summoned to the powerful Mr. Edward Tulkinghorn and is given a seemingly simple case by the formidable lawyer. The ways that these two stories eventually come together is unimaginable, the cases turning out to be just as twisted as the course that Shepherd leads us down through this marriage of old and new stories.

After the pleasant surprise that this was a novel inspired by Dickens, I was even more thrilled to see another favorite novel incorporated later in the tale -- which I won't reveal to you because it's quite a wonderful and unexpected thing. I immediately wanted to reread these two favorites because The Solitary House is written from a place of devotion to these novels and it comes through constantly. But the story that Shepherd has created on her own is just as strong and my worry that it wouldn't live up to the novels that it borrowed from was unfounded. The only moment I was unhappy was when I had to relive one of the saddest moments in Bleak House and, in my opinion, in all of literature. Regardless of my dread of that heartbreaking scene, this was a wonderful novel that would have made Dickens proud in its exposure and denunciation of some of the myriad injustices of Victorian London. I can't wait to read Shepherd's next novel (and I've decided to reread Bleak House for my Year of Dickens after all).

A wonderful read lately over,


  1. This book is on my short list for the summer, having enjoyed Shepherd's Murder at Mansfield Park, and I'm pleased to hear that you enjoyed it so much.

    >The Solitary House is written from a place of devotion to these novels and it comes through constantly...

    That's what I like to hear!

  2. This sounds good--I'll have to look it up and see if my library is getting it! I read about a third of Bleak House and then set it down--it still sits in a pile by my bed--I think I'll have to start from the beginning again however--I got caught up in one of the more lawyerly sections. I loved the BBC adaptation, however!

  3. Al - It really was ... quite dark too!

    Jane - I haven't read the Mansfield Park one (I'm leery of all Austen related fiction) but I'm going to give it a try!

    Danielle - That's right! We started reading Bleak House at about the same time. That seems so long ago now. Maybe my reread will coincide with you picking it back up. :)

  4. It's been years since I read Bleak House, but I remember loving it. This book sounds really interesting--I'm ambivalent about reworkings of classic books, but I might give this one a try. (I'm also intrigued by Ellen Potter's The Humming Room, a middle-grade retelling of The Secret Garden. Might be interesting to compare how an adult book and a middle-grade book handle doing homage to a great original.)

  5. Kim - I am wary of many reworkings too but this is more of a parallel tale. All of the characters and events remain the same as how they were in Bleak House. I hope you do try this one! And I've heard of The Humming Room and people do seem to like it quite a bit.