Overall impression - I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, although it is not my favorite Dickens of the ones I've read so far. It's not as good as A Tale of Two Cities, or Little Dorrit, or David Copperfield, which I'm currently rereading. But, it's infinitely better than Hard Times, which I disliked. I think it's really a 4-star book, but the Dickens name counts for a star on its own, I suppose.
The best place to begin with a Dickens book is the characters--he was brilliant at populating his books with an extraordinary number of well-drawn, interesting characters. My biggest problem with the book is that I don't think Mr. Dombey was a convincing character. I loathed him, which as a reader, I was meant to do. But, I never really got why he shunned his sweet daughter, Florence, until it was almost too late. I know that he was disappointed that she wasn't a thriving boy, ready to step into the role of son and heir, but that wasn't enough to explain to me why he couldn't get over it. I really think Dickens should've given us Mr. Dombey's backstory. We get to meet his sister, Louisa Chick, but their relationship tells me nothing about the forces that shaped him into who he was.
I loved Florence, and was absolutely thrilled that Dickens didn't kill her off as he seemed threatening to do with some red-herring foreshadowing. Maybe he meant to, but since this was a serialized work, he could have changed his mind after tossing out some hints that she was as fragile in health as her brother, Paul.
Speaking of Paul, I went into the book thinking that he made it to adulthood, and I was pretty disappointed that he died before he could convince his father than money was a means and not an end. He was a sweetie, though, and his deathbed scene was all that I expected of Dickens, whose pathetic scenes are the stuff of legends.
Edith Granger was another character that I never really got. As with Mr. Dombey, I understand that she hated being in the role of being auctioned off to the highest bidder in marriage market, but for the life of me, I don't get why she didn't tell her mother to back off. While Mrs. Skewton was a money-grubber, Edith was no door mat and could have managed her. Again, more of Edith's backstory would have been helpful.
James Carker was a wonderful villain--I liked seeing him as a prototype for Uriah Heep insofar as he was also an underling who ingratiated his way into controlling the firm. Carker's white teeth were extremely creepy and terribly effective as a way of encapsulating Carker. Again, I wanted details about his relationship to Alice. Did he seduce her? And what were the details of brother John's transgression? It's amazing that in a book this long, there were so many unanswered questions. I loved their sister, Harriet, and wished I knew more about her.
Captain Cuttle, Major Bagstock, Rob the Grinder (what is a grinder, anyway?), Polly, Walter and his uncle, Susan Nipper, and Mr. Toots were all wonderful characters and I enjoyed spending time with all of them.
My conclusion is that Dombey and Son was a bit of a proving ground for a lot of what came to perfection in David Copperfield. Their plots are very different but some themes are similar--make-shift families, surrogate parents, for example.
Dombey and Son fulfills the category of "A Very Long Classic Novel" in my 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge.