Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
(Writing this without spoilers probably will lead to misdirection, but I feel there are too many people who probably haven't read this book. And I DO want to say some things.)
*big sigh* Oh, that was good.
It is interesting to me that I began reading Dickens with his later books. Going backwards to his earlier creations, one can see the training wheels on in some places. There are some very predictable plot developments that the reader sees as soon as the seeds are introduced. However, Dickens (that genius) still managed to surprise me again and again with unexpected twists that made the story lively and interesting.
One thing that doesn't change from book to book is the creation of eccentric characters who begin by seeming odd and funny but wind up stealing your heart. I'd never have thought that I'd care passionately about Susan Nipper, Cap'n Cuttle, Miss Tox, or Mr. Toots but I really did.
I also appreciated the way that Florence, the character with the least development in many ways (one motivation and one only) was used to show us so much about other characters. Mr. Dombey, Edith, and little Paul all showed surprising depth as they came into contact with Florence whose only desire was love. I was especially impressed with what we were shown of Mr. Dombey's internal character using this technique.
There were times also when the power of Dickens' writing washed over me and left me bereft of my own words. Most notably in Mr. Dombey and Edith's argument in her bedroom, in Mr. Carker's conversation with Edith discussing Mr. Dombey's character, and in the chapter Rob the Grinder Loses His Place where I felt as tired and mentally confused as the fleeing fugitive whose thoughts we read. Here Dickens worked the seemingly impossible feat of making me sorry for someone who I'd been longing to see punished.
On a personal note, I was astounded by in the chapter After a Lapse when Harriet is advancing a proposition to the fellow who plays the violoncello. This book suddenly became a reflection of how many times we stubbornly think we know best and refuse God's love, only to find that his forgiveness and mercy are boundless ... especially when we've fallen the very lowest and don't deserve it ... and yet it is freely and lovingly given. I don't know if that is what Dickens intended, but it is certainly what struck me hard. It was a revelatory moment that left me turning off the audiobook to simply think about the implications of that interpretation when applied to the other stories woven into the novel.
It isn't the perfect Dickens novel. It sagged in the middle when there was a transition from emphasis on Paul to introducing Edith, and there were those predictable plot points I mentioned. It probably won't ever be my favorite (right now those honors are shared by The Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit), but it is a great book and very rewarding on a lot of levels.