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Magesh Nandagopal

By Charles Dickens
Rupa, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 145, Rs. 140.00


Selected Stories By Charles Dickens contains eight of the master’s stories. Primarily known for his novels dealing with the industrial revolution and child labour, this collection reveals what range Dickens had and reminds one (after reading and forgetting his prose in school/college) what a terrific storyteller he is. These stories widely vary in length (shortest being four pages, a couple running to thirty pages), deal with an array of subjects and genres—supernatural, thriller, tragic-poetic, social drama etc. And most importantly, they are all, without exception, entertaining, and some of them are unputdownable page-turners. The pleasure factor is amplified when you have read a couple of stories. By then, one is already used to the slightly stilted, elaborate prose style, and is more in tune/receptive to the storytelling. Most stories have a shape-shifting quality to them—there are switchbacks and U-turns along the way and one is left guessing till the end (in one case until the last sentence is uttered) about where it is leading. And his detailing is exquisite. For example, in ‘Hunted Down’ an insurance evaluator mistrusts a person he encounters primarily because the person has center-partitioned hair. The insurance evaluator admonishes, chides himself on this prejudice, over-harsh judgment. After some thought, he gives in to his intuition and concludes that one couldn’t dismiss such trivial instincts, and that such things could amount to something. And Dickens (operating through the narrator’s voice) seals this argument: ‘It may be the clue to the whole mystery. A hair or two will show where the lion is hidden. A very little key will open a very heavy door.’ With these few lines, the reader is primed to side with the narrator and is set-up to believe or at least listen to whatever the narrator is set out to say. And also, the language and the sly use of the craft are all pressed to serve the story. Always. Never does one get the feeling that the author is showing off. It is always the story, the character, the scenario that is at the forefront. Such humility (if one can interpret it as such) and confidence to withhold is refreshing, particularly when one is bombarded these days with self-conscious, poorly imagined postmodern literature. Theory aside, this is a collection to be savoured. And there are tons of surprise elements, not the least of which is the ...

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