Grace Tjan's Reviews > Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
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Jul 03, 2009

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bookshelves: 2010, british-literature, classics, swapable, victorian-lit, dickens
Read from February 03 to March 09, 2010

3.5 stars


What I learned from this book (in no particular order):

1. You can use the same adjective 19 times in a short chapter to describe a single character and still be considered a great literary stylist. Yes, I get it, Mr. Dickens: Bella’s adorable father is CHERUBIC.

2. It is perfectly acceptable to deceive your wife-to-be, and even marry her under an assumed identity, for the noble purpose of ascertaining her moral worthiness.

3. Once you are convinced that she is no gold-digger, she can be informed of your true identity as the sole heir of a wealthy garbage man.

4. She of course, having been established as a person of high moral standing, would take the news with perfect equanimity, even though she was of the mercenary persuasion just before she agreed to marry you.

5. It is perfectly possible for a hard-nosed, mercenary beauty to be reformed through the example of others whose characters have been debased by the sudden acquirement of wealth.

6. A barely literate, retired garbage man with no acting experience whatsoever can convincingly act this example.

7. The notion of the bee as a paragon of industriousness is vastly overrated. We as a bipeds should object on principle to being constantly referred to insects and other four footed creatures. As human beings, we cannot be required to model our behavior on the behaviors of the bee, the dog, the spider or the camel.

8. One of the most salient reasons of why this is so, is the undeniable fact that a camel has several stomachs to entertain himself with, while we poor humans have only one.

9. One of the best ways to educate oneself is to listen to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire being read by a one-legged street ballad seller. Thus we may learn of fascinating historical characters such as Polly Beeious (a Roman virgin, and therefore cannot be discussed in polite company), Commodious (an Emperor who is unworthy of his English origins) and Bully Sawyers, a.k.a Belisarius, a great military leader.

10. If you need to have your leg amputated, you can always sell it to Mr. Venus, a bone man whose collection includes preserved Hindu, African and (articulated) English babies, a French Gentleman, human bones (“warious”), mummified birds and dried cuticles.


The most entertaining part of the book for me is when Dickens is being caustically funny. Mr. Boffin’s reading of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Mr. Venus’ dry recitation of his macabre inventory, and Wrayburn’s argument against the bee made me chuckle. The social satire with the social-climbing, money-obsessed Veneerings, Podsnaps et al is piquant and sharp, and perhaps as relevant today as it was in the Victorian era. The plot is intricate but deftly woven, with hardly any improbable coincidences that mar his other works such as A Tale of Two Cities. The evocation of the Thames and the marginal characters that make their living from its ebb and flow is immediate and pungent: we can palpably see and smell the great river, the seaman’s taverns and the muddy lanes where the Hexams and Riderhoods live. The river is a metaphor for growth and decay, and the most interesting characters are those that are associated with it. In fact, I find the supporting cast more interesting than the bland main characters. I don’t really understand who Wrayburn and Rokesmith/Harmon are, aside from the traits that they are given to support their roles in the plot. Bradley Headstone is a one-dimensional plot device. Bella is given more personality than the usual saintly, long-suffering Dickens heroine, but her sudden transformation seems to be hardly credible, and so is her romance with Rokesmith/Harmon. The contrast between the dark satire and the fairy-tale conclusion is jarring, and at times the pace of the story is as slow as the silt-burdened current of the Thames. And I was sorely tempted to fling the book to the wall every time Dickens calls Bella’s father a ‘cherub’ --- it’s like a literary Tourette syndrome.

A mixed bag for me, and if not for the melodramatic A plot and bland main characters, should have been a solid four stars.
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Reading Progress

02/03/2010 page 25
3.15% "uh, is Twemlow a piece of furniture or a character? Reading this with some trepidation --- it's a Dickens!"
02/22/2010 page 150
18.89% "Didn't expect it to be funny, but it is." 2 comments
02/24/2010 page 150
18.89% "Did the Boffins murdered their old master?"
02/24/2010 page 300
37.78% "Did the Boffins murder their old master?"
02/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Ayu (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayu Palar I forgot who Twemlow is >.< So many characters in Dickens and if they're not remarkable, I forgot them!

Grace Tjan When Dickens first introduced him, it seems that he is described as a piece of furniture, but it turns out that he is a character. I suppose that Dickens is being ironic. lol

message 3: by Katherine (last edited Feb 04, 2010 08:12PM) (new)

Katherine Hi Sandy,
lol Twemlow is a person. "Mr. Melvin Twemlow – the well-connected friend of the Veneerings... Though Twemlow is introduced to the reader as being like the table at the Veneerings’ dinner party, he comes to reflect a wise way of thinking."

You have to love Dickens if only for his unique names. :)

I'm also reading Dickens right now (Little Dorrit) and really enjoying it but then I've always liked his books.

Good luck, can't wait to hear what you think...


Grace Tjan Katherine, I have a love and hate relationship with Dickens. lol I hope that I'll find this one enjoyable.

Dickens' characters (including their names) can be quite caricatural --- it's one aspect of his writing that I sometimes have trouble with.

I haven't read Little Dorrit, but have seen the BBC adaptation.

message 5: by Katherine (last edited Feb 06, 2010 01:30PM) (new)

Katherine Dickens' characters (including their names) can be quite caricatural...

So true. In a way they remind me of the old-style stage melodramas with their outrageous heightened exaggeration (you know, where the audience boos the villain when he enters), confusing if you're expecting straight drama but a whole bunch of fun if you just go with it. :)

message 6: by Ayu (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayu Palar In Our Mutual Friend, I am very much impressed by Bradley Headstone :) have you reached the part about him?

Grace Tjan Nope. I'm still around Chap. 4. Hopefully I'll make some progress this weekend.

message 8: by Sherien (new)

Sherien I'm interested to know if this one will bring love or hate to your relationship with Mr. Dickens.

message 9: by Ayu (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayu Palar The book consists of two parts, and I like the conflict between Eugene/Bradley better.

Grace Tjan Leola wrote: "Love Dickens, I haven't read this one. My favorite is The Old Curiosity Shop. I would like to read David Copperfield. Have you read that one?"

No, I haven't. So far, I've only read A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations.

message 11: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Only 3?

Grace Tjan Rauf wrote: "Only 3?"

Actually I want to give it 3.5, but the GR star system doesn't allow half stars.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Sandybanks' reviews are the best around :D

Grace Tjan Lauren wrote: "Sandybanks' reviews are the best around :D"

Thankee, Lauren! : )

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

This review is cherubic. Several of my stomachs are now digesting.

Bettie☯ Great review as always, Sandybanks

Grace Tjan Ceridwen wrote: "This review is cherubic. Several of my stomachs are now digesting."

Credits to Dickens for inventing the lol monologue. ;D

message 18: by Rauf (new)

Rauf 'Bradley Headstone is a one-dimensional plot device'?

Miz Ayu ain't gonna appreciate that...


Grace Tjan Rauf wrote: "'Bradley Headstone is a one-dimensional plot device'?

Miz Ayu ain't gonna appreciate that...



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