A body is found in the river Thames and believed to be John Harmon, the heir to a large fortune who just returned to England. His death and discovery will affect various corners of London society. There are Mr and Mrs Boffin, the Harmon's servants, who suddenly come into a large sum of money. There is Bella Wilfer, bethrothed to John Harmon, who now sees herself consigned to a life of poverty. And Lizzie Hexham, daughter of the man who fished John Harmon from the river will become very much involved in the aftermath of the murder and meet two men who pursue her.
Our Mutual Friend was the first book I ever 'read' in audiobook form in total. I must say, it was a triomph! I flew through the book and could hardly wait until I had time again to listen. I listened to the book via LibriVox, the service who makes classics freely available as audiobooks. My version of Our Mutual Friend was narrated by Mill Nicholson and she is absolutely amazing. She manages to give each character of Dicken's large cast a distinctive and fitting voice and really enhances the experience of the story in this way. If you're thinking of listening to Dickens audiobooks, I would definitely recommend a version she narrated.
Anyway, back to the book. Our Mutual Friend is Dicken's last complete work and very complex, with a large number of characters and sub-plots. I really, really loved it and was amazed by how all the stories were connected and all the characters so life-like. Ofcourse, all the connections might be a bit unrealistic, as well as all the characters constantly running into each other in a city as large as London... But, I happily suspended my disbelief for this amazing story and the captivating characters. There were a few parts I found a bit boring, such as the chapters about the 'society-circle' of the Veneerings, Podsnaps and Lammles. But, all the sub-plots fitted really well together and in total told a great story.
Critics say the main theme of Our Mutual Friend is money and how it influences people. Interestingly, last month I read The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, which also has this theme. If you have read my review, you will remember I was not so fond of that book. Our Mutual Friend takes a more human in stead of societal look at the influence of money, and also has a more hopeful outlook on how money can be used for good which made me like the story much more.
I really loved the romances in Our Mutual Friend and think they are among the best Dickens ever wrote. The relationships between Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith and Lizzie Hexham and Eugene Wrayburn are given time to develop and have a really sweet conclusion that any romance-loving heart will happily sigh about.
Now, the main mystery of the novel. I have seen the mini-series before reading this book, so I knew how it would all end and can say less about how good the mystery is in the novel. Listening to the novel I did wonder if everything was explained clear enough at the end or if people reading the novel without foreknowledge would be totally 'huh???'.
All in all, Our Mutual Friend definitely ranks in my top-three of favourite Dickens novels I've read so far (with David Copperfield and Little Dorrit) and I would totally recommend it to every lover of the classics. The length may be intimidating, but the story inside is so worth it!