We’re getting down to the wire, my friend. Our Mutual Friend has moved to the “finished” pile and I’m halfway through The Uncommercial Traveller, leaving a volume of Edwin Drood and some miscellaneous “Household Words” to finish by the 17th (or the end of August, or somewhere in between).
I don’t know if it’s because I’m trying to read more quickly, but the end of Our Mutual Friend felt a bit hurried and in some ways a little too gift-wrapped. As Oscar Wilde famously put it, “the good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That’s what fiction means.” But that isn’t always such a good thing. Not that I think you should have changed anything regarding your principal heroes and villains – Harmon and Bella deserved a happily ever after, and Riderhood and Headstone deserved everything nasty that came to them.
It’s the supporting cast I’m a little disappointed with. The Lammles sort of fade away quietly, and there’s not that same parade of characters across the stage to take their final bows that characterize some of your earlier works. Part of me was overjoyed that Mr. Boffin was only pretending to be a grouchy miser to teach Bella a lesson, but I gotta admit, it seemed a bit forced. A bigger part of me wanted him to NOT be faking, but to have some Scrooge-like epiphany (minus the ghosts) that his behavior wasn’t at all cool and to try to make amends, especially to his long-suffering wife.
And about Harmon. I loved the dramatic meeting between him and Lightwood, I raced through the resulting tension as the authorities try to determine if Harmon might have actually murdered himself. That’s great stuff, Charlie, but it was wrapped up so quickly I felt a bit cheated. That’s the central drama for god’s sake! That’s why we’ve known about Harmon’s disguise for hundreds of pages! At least put him in a little bit of jeopardy – imprison him for awhile or something! Maybe bring in the interesting but vastly underused Pleasant, who’s actually seen him in disguise!
I admit, though, that you do have a really good excuse for being less than caught up in the end of your novel. I should be pleased that it turned out as well as it did, considering you were physically and mentally recovering from a train wreck, as well as navigating tricky personal waters with a wife and a mistress – a public figure like yourself would have found that difficult, I imagine.
And generally speaking, those are small complaints against an otherwise pretty satisfying ending. I loved Harmon’s violent reaction to Wegg, and I’m glad Mr. Venus got his girl. I’m really glad that you didn’t conveniently kill off Eugene and left him to rebuild a (hopefully) better life with Lizzie. I like that hint of Romance between Sloppy and the awesome Jenny Wren. And really, who cares what happened to Charlie – the guy was a total ass. I hope he fell into a lock as well. Miss Peecham and her maid are better off without the objects of their desire.
Finally, I like that you rounded off the novel as you began it, narrowing focus of the final pages on the eccentric Mr. Twemlow, who surprised me (and everyone else) by sticking up for Eugene’s marriage and putting the stuffy Podsnaps in their place.
Now on to the next. It’s fitting that I’m reading The Uncommercial Traveller, since I’ll be taking myself off to Sechelt, BC for the Sunshine Coast Writer’s Festival coming up. Hopefully I’ll have some time for at least a short letter, or maybe a postcard. I’m already convinced that curious, exploring, travelling Dickens is the cutest, most engaging aspect of your personality. The unfaithful, defensive dude who was kind of weird with his kids…not so much. But whatever your current mood, I still remain,