““Our Mutual Friend” is the Master's most complex, Bosch-like cosmos, where all we encounter seems to be distorted by the light of flickering torches and glowing brimstone. It's a tale of greed, lust, envy…in fact, I’m sure all of the Seven Deadly Sins factor in at some point. It’s a study of contamination, of corruption. No character reaches the final page untainted; it’s only a matter of degree. The Thames snakes through the story like a virus, riddled with corpses; the source of the wealth that drives the characters mad is a heap of dust. Don’t worry, it’s an enormously funny novel, but it’s Dickens’ blackest comedy and bitterest satire.
Dickens also mines psychological depths here that were uncharted territory for him. Bradley Headstone, the respectable schoolmaster who disintegrates into a frenzy of horror and madness in his lust for Lizzie Hexam, could have wandered in from a Dostoevsky novel. The effect of his presence upon this otherwise Dickensian universe is fascinating. It is as if his tortured, conflicted psyche spreads throughout the novel like a contagion. The characters are like people encountered in nightmare, whose faces keep shifting along with their motives. Each is more confusing than the last. Nowhere else in Dickens are his villains and his heroes more ambiguous.
This was his last complete novel, and I think it is the summit of his achievement.