Rife with Dickens' disturbing descriptions of street life, the novel is buoyed by the purity of the orphan Oliver. Though he is treated with cruelty and surrounded by coarseness for most of his life, his pious innocence leads him at last to salvation - and the shocking discovery of his true identity.
I absolutely love Simon Vance as a reader. After listening to his reading of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, I decided to try something a bit more classic, and went with Oliver Twist, since, despite being an English major, I had only ever read one Dickens novel (Great Expectations) and then with a looming exam deadline so it wasn't fun at all.
Simon Vance made the book come alive, made the humor in Dickens' descriptions and dialog funny, made it easy to keep track of a wide cast of characters in all of his different voices.
Any flaws in the book are more a weakness of Dickens...it gets off to a good start and has a riproaring set of climaxes, but there is a pretty badly sagging middle where not a lot is going on, some mawkish sentimentality and a few needless episodes that I chalk up to the book's origin as a serial and a need to have some sort of "cliffhanger" to lead to the next segment. Also, as many others have noted, Oliver is such a paragon of meek and grateful innocence that he pales in comparison (as do all of the "good guys", pretty much, except for the surgeon and the friend of Mr. Brownlow who constantly threatens to "eat his own head") to the vivid villains and lowlifes who oppose him.
But trust me, even with these weaknesses, Vance makes it worthwhile. I have added all of his Dickens books to my wishlist and plan to start on Nicolas Nickleby as soon as my next credits arrive!
Hard to improve on this combination of Dickens and Vance! I almost cried at one point in the book, when little "Dickie" request a pen and paper so he could express to Oliver his love.
It' a great story, a brilliant social critique, and a keen observation of human nature that holds up.
I listened to Oliver Twist on audible while I also read it as a paperback novel. My reading experience was enhanced by the terrific voices and phrasing of Simon Vance. If you haven't read any Dickens, try this one,
I'm pretty sure this is the most well-known Dickens work besides "A Christmas Carol" (which is, I believe, technically a novelette?) Probably because it's been made into countless movies, series, and at least one musical.
And for good reason--it's a sweet story with a happy ending, but not without plenty of colorful villains mucking things up on the way.
The suspense hinges entirely on circumstance--will the heroes unite before the villains intervene?--rather than character development (heroes don't evolve into villains or visa versa), but we get so attached to all of the players, both good and bad, that it doesn't really matter.
This is junk melodrama at it's best--no real-life little boy could possibly be as sweet and adorable as Oliver--but the character was also Dickens's way of illuminating what he perceived as social ills, and it would be a mistake to think his portrayal of the institutions of the day were just exaggerated and/or fictional constructs.
Oliver Twist is essential Dickens, and you won't find any better narration than this.
it was the story that I found distasteful, the narrator was clear and well spoken, but the story thou classical and well written I found it distressing, dark, and painful to listen to, but it was for ENG 2220, so no choice about the book, just the format.
I'll eat my head if I ever read Dickens again.
What was the point of this novel? Entertainment I suppose, something to read to while away the time every month when a new chapter was printed. And I kept asking myself if Dickens was trying to get at a deeper meaning here but, alas, there is nothing here to be found, my dear. We've been robbed.
But let's take a closer look anyway.
The end of the novel is telling. We're led to an island where the meanest, dirtiest, lowliest scum of all London, nay all Christendom, live. Here too is where Sikes - the worst of the worst - is hiding. Dickens begins by describing the people here as just mean, dirty castoffs, but then employs them in the right honorable task of bringing a murderer to justice. All of a sudden the dregs of society are miraculously reinvented as a willing army of angels; God's brigade.
And that's just one of countless examples of coincidence too convenient to catalog here.
Yet why did Dickens turn pretty much all of England into a 'wretched hive of scum and villainy' if the one goal he must have hoped to reach was to show how poorly the lower classes are treated. By the end it's the upper-classes who come to the rescue, who possess the means to investigate Oliver's past, who have the social connections to connect the dots and notarize the appropriate paperwork.
Who was Dickens writing for? Was he making fun of England's citizens while at the same time claiming he was sticking up for them? Who in this book of meager circumstances comes off as righteous? Nancy, perhaps, and maybe Master Bates (wasted pun, by the way) and none else. Oliver, orphan that he seems, is no pleb by blood, and everyone else who raised him was a wretch, a criminal, a tool, and a coward.
So how does Oliver's story tell us anything about society? What's the point of Oliver existing in the first place?
As always, my biggest complaint with a lot of writers is that just because they write down that a character is having an emotion doesn't automatically mean the author no longer has to do any work to earn our emotional engagement. Saying a character is sad, or glad, or even possess a trait, does not mean the author gets a pass for the rest of the story - they have to SHOW that a character is sad, is mad, or whatever.
Yet this is the problem with too much popular writing. An author can say 'Bella was depressed' and readers will eat it up even though nothing has been done to show that she's depressed - it's only enough to know that someone says someone else is depressed.
Good art requires work. Good reading requires work. Dickens did not do much work. Dickens got paid a lot. Dickens was a literary thief and an orphan of good taste.
And the real shame is that there were moments when the writing was quite good, where if he had utilized his characters more sympathetically we could have really had a good book here, but because he just wanted to poke fun on one page and then be expected to be taken seriously the next, that we get an uneven, and undeserving entry into the cannon.
I wonder what author's work was turned aside in the serial publication to make room for this? I wonder what great literary talent we'll never know about was swept aside for Dickens?
There probably was a real Oliver Twist in 19th century England, and he was probably an author who never got the chance to prove his talent or be taken in by a benevolent benefactor willing to give him a chance. We are poorer for it too.
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