“The novel is rich with nuanced relationships built on ambivalent motives, such that in emotional terms it is Dickens's most original and rewarding achievement. For me it ranks with 'Great Expectations' and 'Bleak House', as one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century.
This is in spite of its flaws. As many have noted below, the ending is very badly handled and the pacing is inconsistent. I found Book 1 especially sketchy in terms of 'where is this novel going? Is he just setting up a series of satirical sketches that lead nowhere?'
But once you're in the heart of it, it explores an extraordinary set of themes:- the sustained effect of unexpected wealth redistribution; the false presumption that men are the rightful agents of business; whether wealth has a merely wasting effect on society; the virtual impossibility of disentangling your emotions from economic motives (Dickens only finally achieves this disentangling through an unconvincing deus ex machina); becoming estranged from one's own legal personality; the phoniness of Dickens's earlier orphan complex; etc.
The novel is also notable for (probably) Dickens's strongest female characters - Bella Wilfer (until the tragically fudged ending, which turns her into yet another of Dickens's angelic women); Lizzie Hexam (who also ends up as 'wife'); Jenny Wren; Abbey Potterson; and Pleasant Riderhood. It's why their relationships feel nuanced and relatable. Bella's rejection of Rokesmith means that both experience a suppression of identity and desire. Perversely, this brings them closer to what they really feel about the mechanical trappings of social status. Similarly, Lizzie Hexam's ability to choose between Wrayburn and Headstone gives her a power that radically alters all of their lives. However, her choice is not neutral - it means different and uncertain outcomes in terms of current v future social status, educational mentality, family affection, etc. And it's because it appears to not merely be a choice based on desire (though for Lizzie it is) that it sends both men (especially Headstone) crazy.
As I said, the originality of Our Mutual Friend's emotional explorations is absolutely remarkable. Another notch up to Dickens's genius.”