Christopher H.'s Reviews > Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
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In completing Our Mutual Friend, I believe that I may well have just finished reading the finest book written in the English language. One could perhaps argue that the prose of Austen in her novel Emma is more perfect; but the plotting and characters of Dickens in Our Mutual Friend is exquisite. Our Mutual Friend rivals Tolstoy’s War and Peace in breadth, scope, scale, and number of characters; but while War and Peace proceeds forward majestically in a linear fashion; Our Mutual Friend, like Dickens’ “Circumlocution Office” (Little Dorrit) proceeds circuitously, bobbing and weaving, exposing its mysteries and delights, one-by-one, like peeling back the layers of an onion.

In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens plumbs the deep and dark depths of humanity’s soul with the creation and actions of some of fiction’s most horrifying villains. At the same time Dickens balances the novel’s darkness and depravity as we meet, and fall in love with, some of the kindest, noblest, and most good-natured saints and souls that ever graced the pages of his novels. One cannot but be completely taken with little Jenny Wren (“my back is bad, and my legs are queer”), and the beautiful Bella Wilfur and Lizzie Hexam, and kindly Betty Higdon. One must admire and respect the steadfastness and resolute nature of John Rokesmith, Eugene Wrayburn, and Mortimer Lightwood. One cannot help but laugh and smile at the comical goodness of Our Mutual Friend’s saints: the Boffins, Mr. Twemlow, “Rumty” Wilfur, and Mr. Riah. Then there are the multitude in the gray ambiguity between light and dark; the Veneerings, and those of “Podsnappery” like the Lammles. But it is the grotesque evil of the novel’s villains that makes the good characters shine so bright. There’s “Weggery”, an awful tasting dose of “Fascination” Fledgeby, all horrifyingly blended with “Rogue” Riderhood and the Dark Prince himself – Bradley Headstone.

From Dickens’ pen, Our Mutual Friend falls forth onto the printed pages like the brush strokes on the canvas of the grandest painting of an old master. Our Mutual Friend depicts the freshness and rawness of human emotions in all of its attendant forms, including: joy and happiness, pain and sorrow, anger and hatred, and love and tenderness. Like looking too closely at a painting of Hieronymous Bosch, we have an almost macabre fascination as we follow the novel’s characters through life’s stages – life, death, rebirth, and even resurrection. Primary roles and responsibilities are switched too; with children ‘raising’ parents, the disadvantaged aiding the advantaged, and the poor enriching the well-off.

In Our Mutual Friend things are never as they appear or ought to be. On some levels, Our Mutual Friend is the quintessential detective novel or mystery; but it is really more a series of mysteries nested inside a larger mystery. The reader must pay close attention to the seemingly slightest detail, for all does truly come together in the march to the grand, and most satisfying, conclusion. Through it all, however, there is one overarching and unifying theme, one thread that connects all – The River Thames. The Thames is the source of life, of death, of rebirth, and even resurrection; it infects and purifies; it is the source of depravity, horror, and hope and prosperity. The river is always there, relentlessly rushing onward, carrying the flotsam and jetsam, and the hopes and desires, of the novel’s characters, and even those of the reader. All I can say, upon turning the last page with a sigh, is that this is a novel for the ages; and one that I shall visit and revisit; setting forth again in my little boat upon the river of Our Mutual Friend.
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message 1: by Ayu (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayu Palar I have to say that Bradley Headstone impressed me most.
I also like how river becomes a central character in the novel :)


Hannah Thanks for the great review! As a student and lover of nineteenth-century literature, I definitely need to give this one a read.


Christopher H. Hannah wrote: "Thanks for the great review! As a student and lover of nineteenth-century literature, I definitely need to give this one a read."

Hannah, thank you for the very kind words, and I know that you will most assuredly love this novel too. It is amazingly brilliant. Thanks for stopping by! Cheers! Chris


Hannah Christopher wrote: "Hannah wrote: "Thanks for the great review! As a student and lover of nineteenth-century literature, I definitely need to give this one a read."

Hannah, thank you for the very kind words, and I k..."


It's very funny that you posted this yesterday! I had just finished rereading Great Expectations and, after debating between Dombey and Son and Our Mutual Friend as my next book, I settled on Our Mutual Friend. I think it must be fate!


Christopher H. Hannah wrote: "I had just finished rereading Great Expectations and, after debating between Dombey and Son and Our Mutual Friend as my next book, I settled on Our Mutual Friend. I think it must be fate!"

Hannah, when you are through with Our Mutual Friend, take a few minutes to catch your breath, and then pick up Dombey and Son. It is another one of my favorites in that group with Little Dorrit, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend. Those are pretty much my 'big four' of Dickens' novels. Have a great day, and enjoy OMF! Cheers! Chris


Hannah Thanks, Chris! I had the blessing of a wonderful professor who greatly broadened my love of Dickens, so I've decided that it's my mission to read all those which I deem to be Dickens' greatest works. I'll definitely take your advice. There are few authors who attain the same heights as Dickens; personally, I think the only other who inspires the same sense of camaraderie is Herman Melville.


message 7: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Dunn Christopher, I've read a hundred pages in D&S but my husband is starting Our Mutual Friend and since we have two copies, I might join him. Hmm, can you read two Dickens' at one time?


Christopher H. Cynthia wrote: "Christopher, I've read a hundred pages in D&S but my husband is starting Our Mutual Friend and since we have two copies, I might join him. Hmm, can you read two Dickens' at one time?"

Cynthia, you can do it, but it'll definitely be a handful. Both, D&S and OMF are among my favorite Dickens novels (with Little Dorrit and Bleak House), but they both warrant your full and undivided attention. Enjoy them both!


Hannah I thought of you, because I've been feeling the need for some diverting but rich Dickens, and the thought of a reread of Our Mutual Friend popped into my head. It's now been almost two years since I first read it, and since no one does dark comedy--just what I desire--like my good friend Mr. Dickens, I think now is my time. I'm curious to see if I'll enjoy it more the second time round!


Diane Schirf I'm not finished yet, but this is an outstanding review. I don't know how I could top it. :)


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