Mutual Friend

Busch, Frederick. The Mutual Friend: a Novel. Boston: David R. Godine, 1983.

While this book received rave reviews from publications like The New York Times and The Village Voice I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe it was the raw violence. Or the disturbing sex scenes. I’m not sure. I found it troublesome. Probably the best part was the mastery of voice. For the most part, the entire story is told from the point of view of George Dolby, Charles Dickens’ right hand man. There is a chapter told by a maid and another by his wife…But, let me back up.

The Mutual Friend is the story of Charles Dickens at the height of his fame and the end of his life. While on his book tour Dolby is his tour manager, friend, guardian and sounding board. It’s Dolby who mostly reveals the drama in Dickens’ life. The health-draining stress of the tour, his practically nonexistent marriage, troubling health issues, oppressive poverty, and faltering ego. But, not all of The Mutual Friend is told from Dolby’s point of view. Probably the most disturbing chapter is that of Barbara, the maid. She starts out as a prostitute who prefers women. When Dickens looks for a Jewish maid, Barbara works her way into his household and seduces his son. Another chapter is told from the viewpoint of Dickens’s wife. The demise of their marriage is sad and poignant.

From Kate’s chapter: “He approached me, then, and his scented breath, the cologne he wore, the smell of the lavender sachet with which his clothing was fragrant, all came down to me as a rush of memory floods upon the heartsick widow who opens and closes her solitary cupboard to remind herself that once she was someone’s wife” (p 84).
Another disturbing line: “…and I looked at the dazzle on the surface of the river and saw what lay beneath – the bones of dogs, the limbs of babies, the sewage of civilization” (p 161).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Frederick Busch: Too Good To Miss” (p 48).

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