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Another wonderful story by one of the best authors ever – great plot, wonderful characters, amazing depth of story-telling, so obviously a joy to read and consequently a long review! The book centres around a fortune left to John Harmon dependant on him marrying a certain woman, however Harmon is believed to be drowned under suspicious circumstances and so the money passes to Mr & Mrs Boffin, previous servants of the dead benefactor. There is then a suspicion of another will to override the first will and of more unclaimed fortune hidden within the dead benefactor’s dustheap, and the search for these through the rubbish. The reader is also introduced to the dark and disturbing lives of the river people who earn their living by dragging objects, and sometimes bodies, from the River Thames. The story also deals with how powerful money can be and how it can change people. There are also several love stories, particularly involving a poor factory girl Lizzie, resulting in attempted murder between her two admirers. A secret identity is also one of the themes, as John Harmon comes back but conceals his true name allowing him to see people for what they really are and how they treat him when they don’t realise he is heir to a fortune; this is sometimes heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking. This element of people not being who they seem to be is repeated with several characters in the novel. It is a huge and wonderful book full of so many different themes and contrasts, and also full of dark humour and fantastic sarcastic lines.

I think of this book as being all about the characters and it is these that stay in my head and who I am quick to remember when thinking about the book, rather than the plot itself. That’s not to say that the plot isn’t fantastic, as it is, being full of twists and turns and surprises and good and evil, but it’s the characters in this book that steal the show for me and what dominates the book in my mind. But the storyline itself, and the different threads within it, is a continual surprise and is packed full of drama and tension. There is a wonderful mix of nice and nasty characters; some involved in romance; some involved in murder; some involved in swindling; some rich; some poor; some improving in qualities as they go along and turning out good; some accepting temptations and turning out bad; some materialistic; and some generous.

I loved all the names of the characters and the amount of characters there are – it feels like such a treat to read a Dickens book as there are such a wealth of characters, it is so full of people and their different stories. I adored Mr & Mrs Boffin and their graciousness and generosity with their newly acquired fortune, Mr Boffin seems like such a lovely man. I also adored how kind they are to Sloppy and Betty Higgard, and so tactful with their help. I did feel quite anxious about Mr Boffin throughout most of the book, firstly that he would be cheated by some swindler, and then secondly that he seemed to be hardening himself too much against potential cheats and was losing his gentle and generous character (I should have know, however, that Dickens had it all in hand!). I did struggle, however, to reconcile myself to the plan that Mr Boffin had devised and followed; I found his aim in that quite twee and a little unbelievable.

Twemlow is another amusing character, particularly with his attempts at judging who exactly are the Vemeerlings’ oldest friends, and the reader is shown how ridiculous and how shallow this world of privilege and riches can be.

I found Betty Higgard’s life and her horror of ending up in the workhouse so very sad, and her determination to be independent and avoid being a burden actually meaning that she didn’t accept help from those who genuinely wanted to help her. Her pride was admirable, but I felt sad that she didn’t allow others to help her and to reduce her difficulties.

I also liked the sarcastic and cynical lawyer Eugene Wrayburn, although I was not completely certain of his motives as he sets out to deliberately annoy people and be quite stubborn and sarcastic and infuriatingly evasive when questioned, but I suspected he really did care for Lizzie Hexham and went out of his way to gently and kindly help her. I found Eugene’s comments wonderfully humorous and sarcastic, particularly regarding Riderhood and his character, and also Eugene and Mortimer’s analysis of their guilty feelings of what may befall the daughter after her father, Gaffer, had been captured and their part in this. I loved the romance of Eugene’s feelings and intentions for Lizzie, though they seemed to take a while to materialise and to convince me that they were good intentions. It was probably Eugene that I struggled most to get to know as a character and had most doubts about, but I felt myself at the end being very worried and concerned about him and his health.

I was fascinated by Jenny Wren, the dolls’ dressmaker, who was still a child though acts so wise and much older than her years; she must have had such a hard life. She could be quite short and cutting in her comments and judgements particularly when scolding her father whom she treats as the child. She was a very complex and unusual but sad character.

I also liked the beautiful and lovelorn Miss Peacher who is in love with Bradley the school-master though she knows there is no hope of his ever returning her affection, and throughout continually correcting Mary Anne on pronouns, etc.

The description of love at first sight that Bradley experiences when he first sees Lizzie and how he can’t subdue it or control it, is quite a romantic passage. I was astonished at how passionate Bradley was when declaring his love for Lizzie; I wouldn’t have thought he had such depth of feeling in him, and I almost felt quite sorry for him when she gives him her answer.

I didn’t guess at all about the identity of John Harmon, but so admired the man and how considerate he was by not wanting to declare who he was and therefore take away the Boffin’s fortune, and by wanting the woman he loved to love him for himself not for his money or to have her forced into marrying him in any way. I also felt for him so much when people were being unkind to him, not realising for a moment that they owed everything they had to him.

I felt very frustrated and angry towards Charlie Hexham and how he could be so cruel and hurtful and ungrateful towards his sister, Lizzie, who had always been so self-denying for him. I was astonished at how he became so arrogant and self-centred after he’d been brought up by such a gentle person as she.

I found Mrs Wilfer very funny as she is such a ridiculous character; so above herself and thinking so well of herself and yet coming across as proud and foolish, and she could be quite cruel to people especially to her poor husband. Within the same family, I loved Bella Wilfer and her father’s relationship; they were so loving towards each other and genuinely friendly and trusting and caring. Bella could seem quite proud at times, like her mother, but the nicer part of her character came out when she was with her father. I also loved Bella’s romance and how sweet her and her admirer were together.

Silas Wegg must be one of Dickens’ most horrible characters, I could hardly believe how underhand and nasty he was after feeling quite sorry for him at the beginning with his wooden leg and his obviously difficult life scratching out a living with his stall. It sickened me how he was so unappreciative of Mr Boffin’s kindnesses and demanded more and more, and so obviously despised the kindness and saw it as a weakness of Mr Boffin’s, though accepting all that was offered.

I felt quite exhausted when I finished this book as there was so much going on in it that it was occupying my every thought. I also feel that now I’ve finished I want to immediately read it again as there is just so much in there. My favourite books of Dickens so far are Bleak House and Little Dorrit, both of which I’ve read time and again, and I feel this book joins them without a doubt. It is quite simply an incredible piece of work.