Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Read Books: Our Mutual Friend

My Dickens read continues with his last completed novel. And my word, what a novel it is. There are many characters all following a variety of intersecting paths. There are drownings and people coming back from drownings; there are murders, attempted murders and people beaten with sticks; there is unrequited love; there is stupid love; there is people getting married without love; there are plots and plans; there are wills and hidden treasure; and there's a twist that is telegraphed from nine country miles off in which one member of a couple is deceived for over a year in order to teach her the kind of lesson that obviously inspired Superman in the 60s[1].

It's difficult to summarise the plot, and parts are melodramatic to the extreme, so I won't. Instead I'll identify the themes. The obvious ones are money and it's effect on people; class or the expectations of society; marriage and love and how money and class effect these; and finally and less interconnected, reinvention of the self and rebirth from the water. The large cast explore these in a variety of ways. The obsession of the upper classes with money is satirised.

Like Oliver Twist this novel is written from a third person omniscient point of view. Also like Twist, it has a Jewish character. However Dickens' feeling about Jews has moved on; in this novel Riah, a moneylender, is forced to assume the character of the merciless usurer by his Christian master, but in private life is generous and kind.

Every character is created with eccentricities which helps to keep them straight even over the course of the long and complicated plot. Many of them remain sketches, but some acquire interesting subtleties. They grow and learn. Some acquire a conscience; others find themselves overwhelmed by greed.

Overall I would call this a flawed masterpiece. It's deeply flawed in the plot which starts with some nonsense about a will and watermen who make their living finding bodies floating on the Thames, is fairly sensible in the middle, then goes full on crazy with it's neatly wrapped up ending.

Read This: For thrills, spills, zany wills, crazy characters and a long hard look at the hypocrisies of class and money
Don't Read This: If coincidences and wacky characters in the slow paced prose of Victorian England make you want to throw the book at the wall.
Also: Another character run over by a steamer on the Thames.
Available Online For Free: Here and elsewhere

[1] I've read the interesting theory that Superman, being so horrendously overpowered, has in fact defeated regular crime in Metropolis by now[2], so between alien attacks, discovery of kryptonite fragments and Lex Luthor's next jailbreak spends his time amusing himself by "teaching" Lois and Jimmy pointless "lessons" in the most convoluted way possible while waiting for mankind to grow up and act maturely dammit.
[2] Batman does the same thing, which is why only the craziest and zaniest villains with ludicrous plans ever get anywhere in Gotham as Batman has stopped all the usual methods of crime.

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