I’m quite excited, Charlie, because yesterday I found Peter Acroyd’s e-frickin’-normous biography of you at a used book store. At over 1,000 pages, it rivals even your longest works for epic-ness. Before this year, I would have avoided such books out of sheer intimidation at their size, but now that I know I can not only survive but enjoy such hefty tomes I bought it with a light heart. You’ll forgive me though, Charlie, if I wait a few months before cracking it open to discover all the nooks and crannies of your life.
But while we’re on the subject of epic tomes, I wanted to mention a few interesting things I noticed while reading Our Mutual Friend. I’m about ¾ of the way through it and, while the plot is slowly coalescing, it’s taking its sweet time about it. Now, I know you had a lot going on while you were writing this – an affair with a younger woman and the breakdown of your marriage, not to mention a traumatizing train accident, would throw off anyone’s focus. Add in the inherent pressures of serialization and it’s little wonder that I find myself wondering where everything is going.
After a promising introduction, Georgiana Podsnap has been rescued but has subsequently vanished into the ether, and the delightfully mercenary Lammles never seem to get any traction in their plots to relieve other people of their money. Their plans for the Boffins seemed pretty solid, but you wouldn’t give them an inch (but what a fantastically uncomfortable breakfast the four of them endured!). And speaking of the Boffins, after setting up a fairly solid partnership, Venus has suddenly admitted his part in a blackmail plot against the increasingly unstable Mr. Boffin, which seems a little arbitrary at the moment.
There are an awful lot of pieces in play, and I’m worried that some of them are in danger of falling off the board entirely. But you are the master of the many-character storyline, and I trust that you’ll tie up as many of the loose ends as you can, my friend, but for the last few chapters it kind of seems like you’re just writing for writing’s sake. At least Bella grew up a little and she and John have been united; that’s something.
With so many characters, even I, who am reading at breakneck speed, have a tendency to forget who all the players are. It must’ve been even more challenging for your original reader who had to wait months for the next installment. But I did notice something neat in this book that helped me, and I’m not sure if it was deliberate on your part.
Back in University I took a course on ancient Greece, and had to read The Illiad. I don’t remember a great deal, but I do remember that every character was given a descriptive epithet or two, to help the narrator narrate and the listener to remember. Whenever the main actors in the drama are named, they are also described, such as, “Achilles, cheeseburger-eater,” or “Odysseus, that hairy-chested dude,” or “Helen, the total babe,” (I may be paraphrasing slightly).
Interestingly, you do the same thing, Charlie. So in this epic of yours we have Twemlow, “rooms-above-the-stable dweller,” the Veneerings, “the people of the camels,” and Mrs. Podsnap, “she of the horse-like features.” Every character’s introduction is accompanied by some snippet of information that helps the reader remember who they are and where they stand. With such a multitude of characters, I’ve found it hugely helpful, and I’m sure your initial reading public would have found it even more so. I’m really curious to know if this was a deliberate move on your part, whether it was a nod to ancient epics, and whether you’ve done it before, since this is the first time I’ve really noticed it.
And now, as I venture into the last quarter of Our Mutual Friend, I wonder if I should now refer to you as “Busy Charlie, overworked survivor of train wreck?”
I think I’ll just stick with “my friend.”