Thursday, 21 February 2013

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

"Animate London, with smarting eyes and irritated lungs, was blinking, wheezing, and choking; inanimate London was a sooty spectre, divided in purpose between being visible and invisible, and so being wholly neither."

Upon finally, after so many months of reading, finishing Our Mutual Friend, I feel champagne and/or fireworks are in order. I admit that, in terms of reading the classics, Dickens has always been my Achilles heel. I embarked upon Dickens' last completed novel as part of a promise to myself to better understand the genius of Dickens, prompted in no small part by the effusive praise of Simon Callow (in his exceedingly entertaining opening address to the Melbourne Writers Festival 2012).

It may be stating the obvious, but this is a lengthy novel, with a veritable cast of thousands. My chief issue with Dickens, is that reading his novels makes me a little depressed; capturing, as he does so expertly, the unpleasant sides of society - particularly the focus on social climbing, inheritance, debt and greed. I always find the darker sides of life appear more vivid than the love stories and happy endings in his work. Writing a synopsis of the plot and characters would try my patience, so I shall redirect your attention to the entry at wikipedia. I particularly liked their link to a map representing the novel's locations - quite nifty!

After more than 800 pages, what is it that I will take away? Was it worth reading? Definitely. Is it the perfect book to take on a flight from one corner of the globe to another - most definitely. I think a long journey would lend itself to total immersion and a more solid appreciation of all the sub-plots and action. Is it my favourite book? No. Is it my favourite Dickens to date? No. Am I still going to give it a good score? Undoubtedly, it has moments of such delightfully accurate human observation that they still resonate today. 
So that's 5 out of 5  murky dips in the Thames.

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