Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens

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Another month, another book off my list for Classics Club!

Those of you who've been around these parts for a while know that I have a long running (like since I was ten) love of Charles Dickens. So I figured it was appropriate (seeing as I have THREE Dickens books on my list) that I throw myself into one of his books at the first opportunity.

I've owned Our Mutual Friend since 1998 - as evidenced by the fact that I own the BBC tie-in edition - and made it about a third of the way in after I received it as a Christmas present. But then it somehow fell by the wayside and I never picked it up again. Well, not until a couple of weeks ago.

This is effectively two books in one. On one side of things, we have John Harmon, who discovers that his inheritance is conditional on marrying Bella Wilfer, who he's never met. (Uh, dick move, Papa Harmon...) But John is found drowned, and the fortune passes to the adorable dustman, Mr. Boffin. He and his wife promptly take Bella - who's kind of obsessed with wealth - under their wing and introduce her (and themselves!) to polite society. Along the way, Mr. Boffin acquires a secretary - also named John - who falls for Bella, but she's all "Ew, you're poor"*.

On the flip side of the coin, we have Lizzie Hexam, a working class girl. Her father dies, her little brother is kind of an asshat, and two guys - neither of whom she particularly likes to begin with - fall in love with her. Of course, Dickens takes an "Hey, why stop at a love triangle when you can create the friendzone!"* approach, and things rapidly get out of hand.

Add in some typically ridiculous but loveable Dickens characters, some dastardly villains, and nine hundred pages, and you've got yourself a book.

I'll admit, this wasn't one of my favourite Dickens books. I think I would have preferred it if the two stories had been separated into two distinct books (okay, so the overlap between them would have been a little problematic, but STILL). Combining the two stories in one book meant that there was a somewhat overwhelming number of characters that I sometimes had trouble keeping straight, as well as numerous sideplots about the inner workings of politics and polite society.

My other major problem had less to do with the book itself and more to do with my edition. I find tie-in editions troublesome because they don't give you a chance to see the characters for yourself - you'll always be imagining them as the people on the cover (and, in this particular case, the people on the several glossy pages of photos smack in the middle of the book). The expressions of the actors in the chosen photos impacted on the way I felt about certain relationships, and gave away a couple of significant plot points. But the thing that annoyed me the most? My edition had superscripted numbers throughout, but NO FOOTNOTES/END NOTES. So I was constantly left thinking "Oh, that's clearly an important concept/something that requires further explanation", but had no idea why or what was so significant about that point.

Sigh.

ANYWAY. I far preferred Bella's story to Lizzie's. Bella's a little bit of a stuck up brat, but she still manages to be likeable. Mr and Mrs Boffin were fabulous, and the way the plot ultimately resolved itself was really enjoyable, as well as a little bit mysterious. In contrast, I wanted to punch both of Lizzie's suitors in their respective faces. Lizzie is almost a background character for a lot of the book, despite that whopping great big picture of her on the front cover...

Overall, I enjoyed it, despite this numerous downfalls of this particular edition. And I may be forced to track down the miniseries, if only for Paul McGann's spectacularly ridiculous moustache!!
I mean, honestly... Source

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

*May not be Dickens' actual words.

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