This book didn't just break my heart; it crushed it into a pulp. I've always liked Charles Dickens' writing but this is definitely my favourite of his works.
'A Tale of Two Cities' is set against a back drop of the French Revolution in the early 1790s, although the book was published in 1859, and follows the story of the Manette family as they are drawn to France, falling under the shadow of la Guillotine. (There's also a bit of a love triangle between Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton which forms the overall basis of the story).
A lot of people have commented that the book starts a little slowly, but I wouldn't really agree with that, primarily because Dickens serialised his novels and so had to draw in his readers, leaving cliffhangers at the end of most chapters. Although I guess you could say it was written for people of another time, personally I think it still works, especially as the opening lines are "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This book has some of the most famous opening and closing lines in the history of English literature and that alone makes it worth a read, but more than that, it's just an incredibly good story.
My favourite character was definitely Sydney Carton who can now be added to the list of characters who have broken my heart and made me want to sob for the rest of my life. He has a fantastic character arc, based around his love for Lucie Manette which is arguably his only redeeming feature at the beginning of the novel, at which time he is a self-pitying drunk whom it is very difficult to like. I would say Sydney is quite possibly one of my favourite characters of all time and I can't believe I've fallen in love with yet another fictional character.
In terms of other characters, Lucie was a little flat, but I suppose that is to be expected in a 19th Century novel and when Dickens' apparent dislike of women is taken into account. Considering the dark nature of the plot, you would expect some classic Dickens humour to balance it out, but there is surprisingly little of this. The only characters you could really consider comical are Lucie's servant Miss Pross and resurrection man Jerry Cruncher. Miss Pross in particular is a brilliant character; her last scenes in the book are just fantastic and I grinned like an idiot while reading them.
The antagonist of 'A Tale of Two Cities', Madame Defarge, becomes increasingly scary as you read on, and even from her introduction Dickens sets her as a looming presence, watching over proceedings while completing her knitted log of those she wants to kill in the revolution. And yet, Dickens never allows the reader to feel complete hate for the woman as he lays out the reasons for her need for vengeance. However, Dickens absolutely doesn't hold back on his description of the gore of the Paris violence and it was almost a relief to be transported back to peaceful London, hence the title 'A Tale of Two Cities'.
If you've never read a Dickens novel before I would definitely say this is the place to start, just because it's so much shorter and more densely written than some of his other novels, such as 'Bleak House'. At only 390 pages, the novel is split into 3 books, the best of which is absolutely Book 3, and I couldn't put it down. As ever Dickens has an ability to tie up all the threads from throughout the book, including threads you didn't even know were there. Events passed off as unnecessary details, such as Jerry Cruncher's grave robbing habits, come to be of the utmost importance to the overall resolution of the plot.
In 2007 a stage musical based on the book was produced and I'll post my favourite song from that ('I can't recall') underneath. Sydney's character is singing and hopefully it explains itself, although it probably works better if you've read the story, it's still absolutely beautiful.
I would recommend 'A Tale of Two Cities' to anyone and it's one of the best books I have ever read. 10/10