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Monday, 9 January 2012

Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

This has been sitting on my shelf for years. So long, in fact, that the spine has been bleached horribly by the sunlight streaming in through the window. Oliver Twist was always a book I was ashamed never to have read. I'm glad I've now altered that fact.

The story of the young orphan is well known, primarily due to the stage and film musical about him. However, the book is much more than the story of the Lionel Bart musical. The humour is much more pronounced, Dickens's ability with secondary characters is brought to the fore, and the grime of Victorian London seeps into the reader's consciousness. You can replicate those things in film but I don't think a visual representation can ever have the same impact as the images conjured up by words on the page.

My favourite parts of the book revolve around lesser characters and situations. For example, I adored chapter twenty three and Mr Bumble's flirting with Mrs Corney followed by his inventory of all her possessions. Although pompous and self-righteous, Mr Bumble remains perhaps the most vivid concoction in the novel. Beside characters such as Fagin and Bill Sikes, that's quite an achievement. Lesser characters also make their impact. The doctor who attends Oliver after he's been shot, Dr Losberne, is memorable, as is Mr Grimwig with his repeated threats to eat his head. There isn't a named character in the book who can't be distinguished from the throng.

Although over 170 years old, Oliver Twist is still very readable and, I would say, a fantastic introduction to Dickens for anybody wondering where to start. I sped through it once I'd started and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. The title character is, perhaps, a little too good to be true but the novel's about much more than young Oliver. Heartily recommended, especially during this special Dickens year!

I read this book as part of A Classics Challenge hosted by November's Autumn (see sidebar for details).


Crafty Green Poet said...

I love the Dickens novels I've read and can't believe I've not read Oliver Twist. Must get round to it! Thanks for the review!

Brighton Blogger said...

I haven't read anything by Dickens but not being English is a good excuse. Will have to make up for it soon!

CharmedLassie said...

I don't know what my excuse is for being so badly-educated as far as Dickens is concerned. But this is certainly the year to make up for it!

Sal said...

Dickens is an amazing writer. He manages to paint with words. I envy his works. I'm reading Great Expectations and loving every page.

CharmedLassie said...

I agree with the word painting! Last read Great Expectations when I analysed it for Critical Theory. Nothing like plot breakdown to put you off reading a novel! Hopefully the two new adaptations will send me back to it.

Jillian said...

My favorite part of this novel was the last third, when things become less grim, and we move out of the streets. I LOVED the description of Newgate Prison, and though I struggled with this book, it's stuck with me, with clarity, for months. That's saying something. I think Dickens is growing on me. I loved (and just finished) his Christmas books. :)

(Happy Almost Birthday, Dickens!)

CharmedLassie said...

The Newgate section certainly is striking. Although not a fantastic part to have lodged in your brain - not too cheery!