I read this book several years ago when I was at school and did not get much out of it; reading it again, I saw it all in a different light.
The book paints a vivid – and bleak – picture of an industrial town, where Thomas Gradgrind, one of the principal characters, seems obsessed with bringing up children almost like robots, by stopping them from being cheerful or having any imagination; he seems like he should be a hateable character, but strangely, he ends up very sympathetic, and the book explains that he behaves like this because of his very conservative upbringing.
Then, a girl called Sissy Jupe shows up in his class and has a very liberal way of thinking; he almost kicks her out of the class, until he finds that her father (a clown) deserted her, and decides to raise her himself.
I really liked the way that the book portrayed the massive class divide in the city, with characters protesting against Mr. Bounderby, who runs the city bank (very similar to the recent protests that have taken place, so just as relevant in today’s context!).
The book is relatively short (for Dickens), and the cast of characters is not particularly big, with not too many plot strands to have to follow, and strangely, just about every character seems to be redeemable in some way, as many of them seem to have their own personal demons.
I definitely recommend this.
Next book: Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay