Dickens is one of the greats, and plenty of people won’t say a word against him – I’ve read a few of his novels and I’d beg to disagree. His work often falls wide of the mark and it doesn’t always age well, but Oliver Twist is a great example of Dickens at his finest, a writer who managed to capture the essence of the Victorian age in which he lived in like no other.
I won’t bother going in to detail about the plot, because it’s one of the most famous stories ever told and you should already be familiar with what happens, but I’ll avoid spoilers just in case – suffice to say that most of the adaptations that I’ve seen fail to do Dickens justice, because it’s too difficult to capture all of the intricacies of his writing in a stage play, a film or a TV series.
In fact, if you’ve enjoyed the musical or some similar adaptation then I strongly encourage you to read the novel if you haven’t already, just to see where it started – sure, Dickens’ writing is heavy going and it’s easier to read it in small chunks than in a couple of long sittings, but it’s like that with all of the greats. It took me nearly two years to finish The Lord of the Rings trilogy because Tolkien has the same problem, if you can call it that – both authors are lovers of language, and so their work can be daunting to the casual reader.
Reading Oliver Twist is like experiencing high definition video when you’re used to watching things on an iPhone – characters like Bill Sykes take on new dimensions and become even more realistic, while Jack Dawkins, better-known as the Artful Dodger, seems almost tragic. He’s certainly a much darker character in the novel than the happy-go-lucky pickpocket that we’re used to from popular culture.
Oliver Twist was Dickens’ second novel, but it reads like one of his more accomplished works – some of his other novels are tedious, time-consuming and unenjoyable to read, but Oliver Twist is a genuine pleasure and a lot of fun for a serious reader. If you’re a more casual reader, though, then you’re probably better off looking at a truncated version – you’ll be missing out, but you’ll be able to power through it a lot faster. It’s better to read a shortened version than to never get to the end of it.
The ending will leave you feeling satisfied too – there’s a stunning resolution that brings all of the characters slowly back to centre stage for the written word’s equivalent of a final bow. I don’t want to ruin things for you by going in to too much detail, but I can promise you that it’s worth sticking to your guns and reading to the end.