If I may, I would like to start with a complaint. I did not intend to buy the abridged version: I consider myself quite capable of digesting a few extra references and do not need my reading matter presented like a bike with stabilisers. And, nowhere on the front cover did it say ‘Abridged’. In fact, the only reference to it being so is squashed between reviews by Sheridan Morley and Anthony Burgess on the back.
Having said that, I enjoyed it very much. Ackroyd writes with just the right amount of speculation. He suggests what may have occurred but makes it clear when the evidence is thin on the ground.
Dickens’ life is full of interest but what I find most compelling is how unpleasant he could be. He could hardly spare the time for his sons and was mean to his wife. For as man who wrote compulsively about the tragedy of family break-up, he seemed to do little to preserve his own.
As I have said before, I was never really that interested in Dickens. I’m sure everyone knows about the Staplehurst train crash but to me it was a revelation how this had such an effect on him. Afterwards he avoided train travel whenever possible and it is even suggested that it may have shortened his life as he died only five years after.