April 9, 2009

Our Mutual Friend ***

*** Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens, 1865

I became a fan of Dickens as a teenager, reading Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield. But other things came along I didn't return to Dickens again until the 80s, when for some reason I picked up Great Expectations. I was reminded why I enjoyed Dickens so much in the previous decade.

For a while I read one Dickens novel a year, but again fell out of the habit, while still collecting copies from used book stores throughout the years. I finally decided to dust one off and read it, and picked up Our Mutual Friend.

This was the last complete novel Dickens wrote, coming after two greats, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, and just before the unifinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood, all of which I've read. Either I'm getting forgetful, or this is quite different from the others I've read. The criticism I've read praises it as "in many ways one of his most sophisticated works, combining deep psychological insight with rich social analysis." However, to me it seems to be inconsistent in style, rife with author intrusion, and bloated with sentimentality and burdened with heavy-handed moralizing. Let's just say that Dickens would have not only supported a Rock the Vote for Obama, he probably would have organized it.

That being said, it is also full of the brilliance that draws so many to Dickens even after a century. Here are a few descriptions from early in the book.

  • with an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon
  • Mrs Podsnap; quantity of bone, neck and nostrils like a rocking-horse
You know you're reading a Dickens novel when you have 100 pages left and you say, "I'm almost done."

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