We made it! With Martin Chuzzlewit we have officially reached the peak of our Dickens mountain – 8 books down and 8 to go – and it’s downhill all the way from now on (in a good way, obviously).
Unfortunately, Martin Chuzzlewit had a strange effect on our little group as we found ourselves wondering if, perhaps, it was all becoming a bit too much? Were we drowning under a weight of apple-cheeked urchins? Were we (whisper it) Dickensed out?
Luckily a crisis was averted with a week’s extension, and we concluded that we still love Dickens (phew) but Chuzzlewit is definitely not our favourite. However, even being able to say ‘it’s not my favourite Dickens’ makes me feel unbelievably smug.
This odd morality tale sees our hero Martin transformed from a bit of a tool into a reformed character (via a slightly pointless but hilarious trip to America), but it’s hard to root for him and somehow it doesn’t quite hang together. As always, the incredible characters save the day: passive-aggressive villain Pecksniff; prematurely bald Tom Pinch (one of those people who ‘look their oldest when they are very young, and get it over at once’); permanently drunk Mrs Gamp and her magnificent verbal tics; and, best of all, the meanly-portrayed cast of pompous, gluttonous, spitting, ludicrously-titled Americans such as General Lafayette Kettle. Did the others agree?
‘Nearing the half way point in the marathon that is the complete works, I hit a Dickens wall with Martin Chuzzlewit (a Dickens wall is made out of cobblestones and sentimentality) and didn't want to read another of his novels as long as I lived. But after a few chapters, I found myself giggling aloud on public transport at the dysfunctional Chuzzlewit family, and revelling in the abject evil of Jonas, and loving the awful Mrs Gamp and her cucumber obsession. So, perhaps not Dickens's best book, but a very funny one, and I like the way the story hops back and forth across the Atlantic, and is so very rude about poor old America.’ Becky
‘I didn't get as far with this as I'd hoped before our deadline discussion day, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed what I did read, considering I'd had this pitched to me as a weaker one. This comes up again and again in our Dickens talks, but I'm struck repeatedly that even a weak Dickens book is so brilliant, and his wit and humour makes even the most turgid/confusing/bizarre story easy to read. And as ever, his villains are so well imagined and written, and his ironic asides (and King of Irony himself, Mark Tapley) make Martin Chuzzlewit laugh-out-loud. Some points deducted from the final score as I didn't finish it (yet) and can't deduct points from myself, so I give this a solid 6.4/10. ******UPDATE****** I did finish this, and completely loved it. Although flawed, I think Jonas is a marvellous villain, and Pecksniff too, in his own way. Plus, I continued to laugh out loud on the tube, reading it. I'm upping this score to 7.2/10.’ Sam
Next time, hankies ready for Dombey & Son, which is apparently a bit of a tear-jerker …
Louise Willder, Copywriter