Reading at the Beach is hosting A-Z Wednesday where bloggers take the time to highlight one book that starts with the letter of the day. This week is the letter O.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens is a book I have had for going on twenty years now. And I've never read it. Yes, I am aware how pitiful that is (and it's not the only one of that vintage still languishing unread on my tbr shelves either). I have always liked every Dickens book I've read, starting with Great Expectations when I was in 7th grade. I feel certain I've mentioned this before but the boy who played Pip in the short dramatization the class above us did was cute as a bug and I fell hard (for him and for the book). Wish I remembered his name so I could send him the bill for all the Dickens books I've acquired (and not read) since then. Of course, in AP English in high school, we read Bleak House, a book that was such a doorstopper that I sort of drifted along reading a page here and a page there and falling farther and farther behind. That is, until I noticed that I was in serious danger of doing poorly in my very favorite subject, at which point I curled up with the book one weekend and emerged from my room that Monday morning, having finished the entire thing, and thoroughly enjoyed it to boot. So obviously Dickens, no matter how much past experience tells me I'm going to enjoy it, requires a hook for me to crack the covers (not literally, I can't break spines, just can't). And apparently I haven't had the correct hook with this one for almost 20 years. But I intend to dive into it as soon as I finish this post. And you can quote me on that!
Here's what amazon says about the book: Our Mutual Friend was the last novel Charles Dickens completed and is, arguably, his darkest and most complex. The basic plot is vintage Dickens: an inheritance up for grabs, a murder, a rocky romance or two, plenty of skullduggery, and a host of unforgettable secondary characters. But in this final outing the author's heroes are more flawed, his villains more sympathetic, and the story as a whole more harrowing and less sentimental. The mood is set in the opening scene in which a riverman, Gaffer Hexam, and his daughter Lizzie troll the Thames searching for drowned men whose pockets Gaffer will rifle before turning the body over to the authorities. On this particular night Gaffer finds a corpse that is later identified as that of John Harmon, who was returning from abroad to claim a large fortune when he was apparently murdered and thrown into the river.
Harmon's death is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the novel. It seems the fortune was left to the young man on the condition that he marry a girl he'd never met, Bella Wilfer. His death, however, brings a new heir onto the scene, Nicodemus Boffin, the kind-hearted but low-born assistant to Harmon's father. Boffin and his wife adopt young Bella, who is determined to marry money, and also hire a mysterious young secretary, John Rokesmith, who takes an uncommon interest in their ward. Not content with just one plot, Dickens throws in a secondary love story featuring the riverman's daughter, Lizzie Hexam; a dissolute young upper-class lawyer, Eugene Wrayburn; and his rival, the headmaster Bradley Headstone. Dark as the novel is, Dickens is careful to leaven it with secondary characters who are as funny as they are menacing--blackmailing Silas Wegg and his accomplice Mr. Venus, the avaricious Lammles, and self-centered Charlie Hexam. Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens's most satisfying novels, and a fitting denouement to his prolific career.
Now I'm off to investigate skullduggery. (Man I love that word!)