I've always wanted to say "We're gonna have to pull an
all-nighter!" in the manner of a 70s journalist breaking Watergate whilst
eating Chinese food from cartons. Staying up until 3am to finish Our Mutual
Friend
, the second-to-last novel in our
Dickens marathon, almost felt as
good.

This is a long, murky devil of a book, but I'm glad I persevered. Our
Mutual Friend
is dark, fantastical,
mysterious, uneven, often frustrating, but I loved it. This story of a fortune
made from 'dust heaps' (according to the notes, mountains of waste!) has the
weird humour that the Big Monsters Bleak House and Little Dorrit sometimes lacked, but with all their grimy
atmosphere and obsession with money. It has fantastic melodrama, murders, doubles,
disguises, sexual obsession, disappearances, blackmail and con artists. It has
a psychologically fascinating villain in repressed schoolteacher Bradley
Headstone, possessed by lust, grinding his fists against walls until they
bleed. And it has the dark, swirling Thames, which runs through the story and
sucks everyone into its power.

Best of all are the women. Yes, the familiar creepy father/daughter
relationships are still here, yet I felt something had shifted. The women are interesting
and (mostly) non-saintly. They are stronger than their fathers; they make their own
livings, they change and develop, and the central heroines Bella and Lizzie
both, in different ways, save the men they marry. Jenny Wren, a crippled doll's
dressmaker of childlike appearance, is a strange presence, but also has a sharp
brain, seeing through the 'tricks and manners' of the men around her.

I don’t think the upper-class characters in the novel work so well, but
perhaps that's because it's the weak, the humble and the odd that really
interest Dickens. Please, please don't be put off by the gargantuan size of Our
Mutual Friend
, and give this strange and
brilliant book a try.

Next time, we shall be wearing black armbands for our very last Dickens,
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
 

Louise Willder, Copywriter

Join the conversation! 9 Comments

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