So many books (you know the rest)
Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens 1865
Well, months later I’ve finished with what
I’ve started. Our Mutual Friend has been completed.
I recently picked this book because of a very
strong recommendation. Now, for starters, I like reading any Dickens novel,
though some are certainly longer and not as exciting as perhaps others. Given
that, they’re all great works.
The recommendation to read this actually came
from an episode of LOST. One of the characters had a copy of the novel
and intended to read it as the last thing he ever did in life. He proclaimed that
it was Dickens’s best work and so forth. Certainly, I know it’s a fictional
character on a fictional show, but I figured if the writers chose that book for
whatever reason, then I should investigate why. I mean, would they have picked
a lousy novel to glorify as one’s last literary quest in life?
I went to a bookstore to pick up the book.
Well I tried to. It seems the bookstore (Borders) didn’t carry that particular
Dickens novel. No problem. I went to another bookstore and they had just one
copy of it. For some reason, not a lot of people carry it.
Nevertheless, I possessed a copy and was
anxious to start. I dived in. It opens well, but gets complicated pretty fast. Our
Mutual Friend was the last complete that Dickens wrote. In many ways, it is
his most advanced work, yet it’s also difficult to read. Sometimes, it’s tough
to tell what supposed to be taken literally, and what’s just creative wordplay.
Still, the question remains: Is it Dickens’s best
novel? Hmmm. It’s really hard to say. It doesn’t have the same gripping plot as Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. However, it still has
some wonderful and terrific features. The characters are very well done and
quite interesting. There are people that should be good, and yet, they’re bad.
And vice versa. And the plot is good, with surprises here and there and some rather
shocking events. I’d say I was at about page 300 when things really got going. That’s
when I started to look forward to reading it.
Of course it does have Dickens’s usual
commentaries on society, but a few really come to mind. He definitely focuses
on how money changes people, which is sometimes sad to seeespecially when it
happens to good people in general.
There are also some striking acts of kindness
that had me completely moved, such as when a little boy gives away his only
possession in the world to another orphan. For those who have read Oliver Twist,
there’s a complete antithesis of Fagan in this story (Riah). It appears that
Dickens goes out of his way to portray a good Jewish person, and there’s even
some didactic text stating how one person doesn’t represent an entire race of
people or division of society. It turns out that this was intentional,
resulting from some flak the author got for his portrayal of Fagan. I guess he
was trying to undo some of the damage and make nice with some of the critics.
Very well. Why not please the masses?
Another timeless comment was about how people
don’t live within their means. In fact, they even use that exact phrase (“living
within one’s means). Turns out it’s been around a long time. A couple was
spending way more than they made and not saving properly. When they got into
hard times, the other folks in society were simply shocked that these people
have been had let themselves get in such a disaster. Funny how things don’t
There’s also a strong commentary on how too
many people foolishly try to please fashionable society and how even folks
within fashionable society can’t even seem to please each other. It’s just a
futile quest. Why bother?
So there you have it. There are many great
things about OMF. Do I recommend it? Actually I do. It contains some prose
that’s just amazing, for lack of a better word. There are passages so
descriptive and beautiful, that it would make any writer envious to see how
masterfully crafted written work can be. It’s also got some great reminders
about enjoying the simple things. Granted, money is nice to have, but as the
saying goes, it doesn’t buy happiness.
Be that as it may, should this novel be the
last one you read before departing in life? Hmmm well, I suppose it’s not a bad
one to go out on.