Greatest Expectations

David Nicholls, Claire Tomalin and Louise Doughty on their favourite Dickens tale, Great Expectations

David Nicholls

This was the first 'grown-up' classic that I read and it has been my favourite novel more or less ever since. It is so many things – a love story, a thriller, a gothic horror, a satire on class and aspiration. It's lean, violent and exciting, but also incredibly touching.
I can't think of a better novel about the thrill and confusion of growing-up. I must have read it 20 times now, and know I'll go back to it again and again.

David Nicholls’ One Day is out now, published by Hodder; he also wrote the screenplay for the new film version of Great Expectations, in cinemas 2 February.

Claire Tomalin

Great Expectations is compact, full of poetry and a haunting evocation of the Kentish marshes he knew so well. Crammed with equivocal characters like Mr Jaggers and his clerk Wemmick, Miss Havisham, who may or may not be mad, and the supremely
desirable and unattainable Estella, it drew some of its force from being written when he himself was suffering from painful love and private sorrows. 

Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life is out now, published by Viking.

Louise Doughty

Great Expectations is a fantastic reminder of what a modern novelist Dickens was. We tend to think of him writing sprawling, multiple-character narratives, but this has a single, flawed narrator: Pip. Even though Pip is a social climber and treats those who raised him appallingly, we feel for his aspirations and weep with him at the inevitable humbling. The end of the novel is wonderfully ambiguous, which feels very modern too. Will he win Estella's affections after all and would it be a good thing if he did? I love the fact that Dickens himself was undecided about the final sentence – I think he wasn't sure what was best for Pip either.

Louise Doughty’s Whatever You Love is out now, published by Faber.

Images show Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, directed by Mike Newell, and are courtesy of Number 9 Films.