Book Review: Oliver Twist

All right, I’m going to review another Charles Dickens book: Oliver Twist. I know it’s not strictly fantasy, but it is  a kind of a pre-modern story. Anyway, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.

Oliver Twist tells the story of a young orphan and his difficult life, beginning with his time in a workhouse and continuing through his apprenticeship to an Undertaker, then on through his run-in with thieves, and his eventual rescue by a benevolent benefactor. And so on. As it is a classic work of the great Charles Dickens, I’m going to give my first impression of it, then I will read the Cliff Notes, and see if that changes my interpretation.

Pre-Cliff Notes Reaction: It was a decent story. The point that most impresses me is that at the time of the writing, the book was intended to have a very particular impact drawing into the public consciousness the plight of the underclass. Nowadays, I think it has lost some of that luster. The story is the same, but there are so many other stories now, where at least one main character is a thief who grew up on the streets and made his way to a good life, and these are kind of interpreted as adventure stories, not social awareness stories. We have come to regard the thief as the rumpled hero, provided he has a soft-spot for the underprivileged. Of course, none of these other stories were written by the great Charles Dickens, but oh, well (and Oliver Twist is really just an orphan; he never becomes a real thief). Anyway, it was a good book and story. My other major complaint is that the wrap up at the end involved a considerable amount of material not divulged prior to that. You were given a few hints that something was going on, but it was impossible to figure out beforehand; you had to wait for the author to spell it out for you. Oh, and the sentences were a bit long and drawn out (My sister tells me my brain just isn’t used to lengthy sentences by a real writer like Dickens. I just think such lengthy wording is unnecessary).

Post-Cliff Notes Reaction: My reaction is about the same, although perhaps the motives of the story are understood better. It’s definitely not an adventure story, but a piece for critiquing society. Two more areas of complaint are clearer to me, however. One, the female character Rose is too much of a fluffy, angelic perfection. It is a similar problem that arose in his “Tale of Two Cities” with the character Lucie Manette. They are more like an apotheosis of womankind as understood by Dickens, and as such they are kind of boring and fall flat. My second complaint is how the murderer, Bill Sikes, freaks out after committing murder. I find it implausible that a man of his character, as he was so described by Dickens, would give one whit about his victim, or be haunted for more than the briefest measure by his crime. It didn’t seem believable to me. Finally, I will admit that the development of the mystery surrounding Oliver Twist did have a build-up, but I still regard that build-up as insufficient. There is simply no way a reader could figure out what was going on prior to having it explained in detail by Dickens in the closing chapters. And that, I regard as a weakness in the story.

Overall, I’ll give the story three and a half stars.

This review originally appeared on 6-17-12 on Goodreads.

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

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