I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), the last book Charles Dickens completed, was the most hilarious, moving, grotesque, socially satirical, and finally disappointing novel of his books that I've read. It opens with an eerie scene on the Thames, wherein river-scavenger Jesse "Gaffer" Hexam and his daughter Lizzie are rowing back at dusk while towing a drowned man's corpse from Jesse's boat. The corpse belongs to one John Harmon, a young man who had returned to England from abroad in order to gain an inheritance of 100,000 pounds left him by his miserly dust (garbage) king father on the condition that he marry Bella Wilfer, a young lady he'd never met. Because John Harmon is dead, the money reverts to Mr Nicodemus Boffin and his wife Henrietta, a good-natured, unpretentious, uneducated couple who worked for and lived with the deceased miser. Mr. Boffin thus becomes known as "the Golden Dustman" to people who want to taste his riches and as "the minion of fortune, the worm of the hour" to people who envy him.
Rather than end with a glorious and well-deserved inheritance, then, the novel begins with a cursed inheritance and depicts how the Boffins' new fortune warps and influences various people in their orbit, many of whom do not even directly know the couple. Among the many are Silas Wegg, a clever rascal with keen powers of observation, a wooden leg, and an imaginary relationship with the upper class denizens of the mansion outside which he sells bad ballads, fruit, nuts, and gingerbread; Mr. Venus, a melancholy man unlucky in love who articulates skeletons and stuffs animals and keeps an assorted crowd of bottled babies, a French gentleman skeleton, a dusty alligator, and the like in his shop; Mr. Bradley Headstone, a "decent" schoolmaster who lives under too much self-restraint; Charley and Lizzie Hexam, the respectively selfish and selfless children of the Thames boatman Gaffer Hexam; Hexam's former "pardner," Roger "Rogue" Riderhood, a vile and insinuating scoundrel whose catchphrase is, "I'm only an honest man trying to earn his living by the sweat of his brow"; Jenny Wren, a crippled dwarf girl with a magnificent head of blond hair, a sharp eye and tongue, and a propensity for smelling flowers when she's making fashionable dresses for fancy dolls; Mortimer Lightwood and Eugene Wrayburn, a pair of urbane and unambitious best-friend gentlemen in the law (picture a young Oscar Wilde posing as a barrister with no clients); Mr. Twemlow, a dry, gray bachelor burdened by debt, mediocrity, and lost love, a hanger on at the high society gatherings of the nouveaux-riches Mr. and Mrs. Veneering; Alfred and Sophronia Lammle, a pair of scheming gold-diggers who marry each other for their illusory money; Mrs. Betty Higden, a poor, noble child-minder with a phobia for workhouses, poorhouses, and parish authorities; Sloppy, a simple, illegitimate foundling deft at working Mrs. Higden's mangle and prone to throwing back his head and bellowing with laughter or tears; Mr. Riah, an old Jew who wears an exotically orthodox set of clothes, possesses an authentically kind heart (the antithesis of Fagin), and works as the front for a tight-fisted and repugnant Gentile money-lender called "Fascinating" Fledgeby; the Wilfer family, including the long-suffering "cherubic" father, his long-complaining sour wife, and their two daughters, Lavinia of the insolent tongue and Bella of the mercenary heart; and there is the mysterious young man of multiple identities as Julius Handford, John Rokesmith, and--?
Dickens has great fun with his cast of grotesque and or angelic characters, putting them into countless comical and or moving scenes. Throughout the first four-fifths of the novel I was constantly chuckling or tearing up or both. And he enthusiastically exploits his riffing conceits, as when Eugene explains to Mr. Boffin why he dislikes being compared to a bee (or any other creature of more than two legs), or as when the narrator describes things like the Veneering’s "bran-new" house, or Twemlow’s "fancy," or the supremacy of "shares," and so on. Even his throw-away lines are delicious, as when he describes "the bride's aunt and next relation; a widowed female of a Medusa sort, in a stoney cap, glaring petrifaction at her fellow-creatures." And Our Mutual Friend is often devastatingly funny and incisive about human nature and industrial society.
David Timson reads the book with passionate skill, giving the many different characters their own instantly recognizable voices perfectly suited to their personalities and backgrounds and agendas. His only misstep (which is Dickens' fault more than Timson's and is luckily only active for less than 1% of the novel) is a cloyingly precocious "baby." Listening to Timson read any of the many set-piece scenes like Fledgeby rolling about on his carpet in his Turkish slippers and pantaloons, or Riderhood wheedling Mortimer and Eugene to take down his false "Alfred David" (affidavit), or Wegg reading about lurid misers to Boffin and Venus or running down Boffin to Venus, or Jenny cutting through people's pretenses, or the Wilfer women snottily sniping at each other, was a great pleasure.
All that said, there are some disappointing things in the novel that prevent my ranking it with Great Expectations or David Copperfield. Most seriously, much of the climax and resolution of the novel left me disappointed and resentful rather than triumphant and fulfilled. Without spoiling it, I'll just say that I felt badly used and manipulated by Dickens, who unfairly and unconvincingly withholds key information from us as in a cheap mystery novel. He earlier narrates whole chapters from the points of view of characters who know the key information that he's withholding from us, without explaining why they would not think about such things. And it turns out that some characters have been acting in ways that don't gibe with their personalities. And he even arranges things in such a way that he undercuts his novel's powerful theme about the corruptive nature of money.
Nonetheless, I am very glad to have listened to Our Mutual Friend; I truly enjoyed most of it; but finally my expectations from the first four fifths were disappointed by the last part, and I think it is more flawed than Dickens' more famous novels.
I highly recommend this book to anyone. David Timson, the narrator, brings to life each characters with a distinct voice. While listening, I felt immersed in the action, and could easily distinguish between the many characters because each has its own unique and fitting voice. A really fun book to listen too, for all 36 hours of it!
I can't tell you how glad I am that I didn't listen to the poor reviews of this book, or the reader. This is my first experience with Dickens since high school, which didn't really count anyway, and I have, as a result of this book and it's reader, become unabashedly obssessed with Dickens. I only wish that David Timson could read them all. I'm listening to Nicholas Nickelby currently, and I find myself laughing out loud very often. A MUST READ/LISTEN FOR ALL!!
Dickens once again manages to create a multitude of memorable characters, some despicable, some bizarre, others endearing, and expertly weaves them into multiple plotlines, never dropping a loose end. A somewhat darker offering than usual, with a little mystery thrown in. Hugely entertaining.
Just such a wonderful story.
As always: when in doubt listen to a Dickens novel!
Thank you Mr Timson for your wonderful performance!
I have to admit - I almost didn't make it through this book. The beginning seemed awfully tedious, and this is coming from a Dickens lover. But I forced myself to keep listening and I'm certainly glad I did, for I ended up loving this book.
David Timson is *brilliant* and I truly hope to see him narrate other novels by Dickens in the future. He makes the characters come alive.
All in all, well worth the listen. If you've downloaded this and feel like you're ready to give up, I urge you to keep listening. The story really picks up and I bet you'll end the novel with the same feeling I did - wishing that there was more!
Audio books are a great advent-for those who can't read for whatever reason, when our eyes are tired, when we want to enjoy the spoken word. But audio books like this one transcend the conventional, for someone is just not reading us their book. Rather, this is a performance piece of the highest order. Here, the genius of David Timson is only exceeded by that of Dickens. As one reads or listens to Dickens, we are prompted to ask: is there any author alive who can still produce a work of this caliber or character, by which I emphasize the dialogue. Dickens' novels are not narratives, as are most novels I expect, as much as written down dramatizations. Herein lies the beauty and magic of this extraordinary audio book. It is not a substitute for reading, as are many audio books, but something else all together.
What could eventually (at over 35 hours) become potentially tedious, is rendered compelling and vastly entertaining by the reading of David Timson. He gives every line in this huge, intricate, and compelling --not to mention funny -- novel a lively reading and each character a unique voice. By far the best reading I've ever heard. If Timson didn't receive an award for this, there is no justice. I will definitely look for more of his artistry in other audiobooks. Highly recommended.
This wonderful, complex and utterly engaging novel almost defies retelling. Some of Dickens' favorite themes are again in evidence, but his characters are unfailingly dimensional, psychologically believable, and often hilarious. The plot thickens and thickens but the master storyteller never leaves a loose end. The reading is superb, a work of art in itself, and full of subtle vocal nuances that make each character memorable. And the reader's pacing is just right. You will absolutely not be disappointed, unless this level of make believe is not your cuppa.