I still seem to be carrying on the habit of reading two Dickens books a year. It seems pretty reasonable for a reader like me anyway. I don't read in the order he wrote usually, but it seems that recently I've been in his later years. Our Mutual Friend was his last completed novel, and I'd say one of his best.
He seems to have toned down slightly on the ridiculous at this point. I mean, everyone's still interconnected - it wouldn't be a Dickens novel without coincidence, but it's woven in a marginally more believable way. The names are still sometimes goofy - can you say Boffin without smiling? and of course Sloppy is a funny name, but it's a nickname (I think). People are still caricatures, but with an air of seriousness, like Jenny Wren who makes the same complaint over and over again, but instead of making her pathetic, she is a truly resourceful, hardworking person who puts up with disability and a hopelessly alcoholic father by being eccentric enough to cope with everything. The ladies are less simpering - you couldn't imagine Lizzie Hexam offering to sharpen her husband's pens to keep herself occupied - and while I wasn't necessarily enamored with any of the male protagonists, at least a few of them were people I wouldn't mind knowing - Noddy Wilfer, for instance, seemed like a cool guy to have as a dad. Indeed, this book could almost have been titled Fathers and Daughters, there were so many of these important pairings.
In Our Mutual Friend (I would have initialized the title but it might be mistaken for an texpletive,) class distinction is put under the microscope. Even at the time of publication, readers may have started to ask themselves, are high class people really classier? Does education make you 'better', or arrogant? In the end you could say there's good and messed up in every level of society. Food for thought at a period where the middle class was in development.
I'd started this book at the end of last year, with Bonnie, as Our Mutual Reading, but both of us petered off for a while. I have to admit I ended up finishing my reading electronically. It didn't take away from the enjoyment of the process, but I wouldn't recommend it for some of Dickens' other books, where you really really really have to keep going back to remember the cast of characters. iPads might have a different feeling - I'll have to ask Bonnie...whenever she finishes reading.