Even if you haven’t read Great Expectations, chances are you know the story, either from the adaptations (there’s even a South Park episode based on it) or by the many cultural references going around.

So shortly: Pip is a young orphan living with his sister and her blacksmith husband. One day he is invited by local-eccentric Miss Havisham to visit her home – Satis House – and become a companion for her adopted daughter – the beautiful Estella – with whom our hero promptly falls in love. Miss Havisham was left at the altar many years before and since then she and her house remain frozen time. More than that, she is training Esther to break men’s hearts and avenge her. Some time after his first visit, Pip starts receiving money through a London lawyer but from an unknown source, so he immediately assumes Miss Havisham is his benefactor. The rest of the book is about how Pip deals with his new-found wealth, the people he meets in London and the discovery of the true origin of his “great expectations” (connected to a childhood secret).

This was my second Dickens after reading Oliver Twist and I’ve come to the conclusion that… he’s not for me. He’s very readable, and can be really funny at times, but the Mexican soap opera plot twists, and the way he turns everything he touches to bleakness just puts me off. Not to mention his inability to create female characters I can relate to (capital offense!).

I still have Our Mutual Friend on the TBR shelf and will read it eventually since 1) it’s my favorite Dickens adaptation and 2) because of Desmond, from the TV series Lost. You see, Desmond has read all other Dickens except Our Mutual Friend, which he is intending to read only when he feels death is near. I heart Desmond – he understands the unique experience of reading for the first time a book you’ll love.

Anywhoo, I feel that everything that could possibly be said about Great Expectations has been said before, so I’ll just compile some random thoughts:

  • The whole story felt like a fairy tale and you should take it just like that – a spoon full of sugar will help the freaky coincidences go down!
  • Who cares about Pip?! The most interesting part of the novel was Satis House with it’s stopped clocks, rotting wedding cake and Miss Havisham’s plan to build her own version of Frankenstein’s monster. I found the conversation between her and Estella by the fireplace one of the highlights of the book and can’t help wishing for a prequel about their lives together. During that exchange, we have a rare glimps into the  Estella’s mind… and you can almost hear Miss Havisham scream “I’ve created a MONSTER!”. But as the Monster, I feel she is misunderstood and completely right in feeling that Miss H. cannot expect her to be different from what she was programmed for. I know a lot of people feel Estella is two-dimensional, but for me she’s one of those characters that has a life – and a mind! – beyond the will of the author.
  • I LOLed several times during Pip’s early life, when he’s still living with his sister and Joe. They are perfect examples of Dickens’ British sense of humor:

“Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.”

“Some medical beast had revived tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence.”

For the “Read the book, See the movie” challenge organised by Ready When You Are, C.B., I decided to see the 1998 adaptation by Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men, HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban) with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke.

It is a modern take on the book set in the 80s and 90s. The core plot is pretty faithful to the original but with some interesting updates: Joe is a Florida fisherman and Pip (or Finn as he’s called here) is a natural-born artist who needs only some in$$entive to make it big in New York. Miss Havisham dances to Bésame Mucho and dresses in the best 60s style –  priceless!

In general, I had more fun with the book even though it’s not a favorite. It was one of those movies I’d be likely to forget in a few weeks if it wasn’t for the big names and some isolated details that really caught my attention (I’m on bullet-point mode today):

  • Satis House was exactly what it should be, even for a modern adaptation, all wealthy decadence and isolation from the outside world. I did some Googling and discovered that the house is really in Florida and called Cà d’Zan. It looks just as interesting and kitsch in the movie as in the photos.
  • Finn/Pip’s paintings were great and I wouldn’t mind at all if the artist painted my portrait. All of them were done by Italian Francesco Clemente and you can see them in the movie’s official site. The picture on the right is Robert de Niro, who plays the escaped prisoner.
  • Some songs in the soundtrack really caught my ears, in particular one that I recognized as Tori Amos’. After more Googling I found that it’s called “Siren” and was written especially for this film. I’ll have to go down to iTunes to get it.

I think I might watch the 1999 BBC version with Ioan Gruffudd as Pip and Justine Waddell as Estella. I’m curious to see their take on the story. You usually can’t go wrong with BBC period adaptations!

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