I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of Oliver Twist (it is, after all, one of the most well known novels by one of the most well known authors in history) but who really knows much about it, other than perhaps the line “Please, sir, I’d like some more.”? Well, don’t worry if that’s the extent of your knowledge – the purpose of this review is to inform you!
The story follows the life of a young orphan (that’s Oliver) who runs away from the workhouse after years of abuse which he can no longer take. Upon leaving there, his life takes many twists and turns and he encounters many memorable characters. I’d go into more detail if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of the developments in the story are quite unexpected.
The different characters Oliver crosses paths with left quite an impression on me. There’s the eternally pessimistic and grumpy old man, Mr. Grimwig, who I always found very funny. There’s the hardened criminal Bill Sikes, who is rather intimidating. Mr. Bumble, the bumbling fool whose in charge of the people at the work house and who does a good job of being the book’s comic relief – as awful as he is. But they’re not all cynical and bad people – there’s also Rose Maylie who is endlessly kind and optimistic and while she is perhaps a little too perfect, I quite like her.
Then there’s Fagin… Fagin is a character who’s quite enigmatic and mysterious. He finds stray children and ropes them into the life of crime, winning them over with his endless charm. He features heavily in a chapter I found really profound and I always quite liked him, but the problem is that he’s quite an antisemitic character. I don’t mean that Fagin has antisemitic attitudes, I mean that he is a negative Jewish stereotype and it’s unfortunate as he didn’t need to be written that way. Doing a bit of research, it seems that Charles Dickens was criticised for this at the time and felt very guilty about it – to the extent that some later editions had been edited to tone it down. So that’s something.
My favourite character, however, was a woman called Nancy who is an associate of Fagin and Bill. While she is entangled in the world of crime, she isn’t really very happy with it. She has such a great character arc and I felt that most emotionally powerful moments in the book were all related to Nancy.
Strangely, despite the title, I didn’t feel like Oliver himself was ever given that much development. Since the story is built around him, I would have liked more of an insight into his mind and personality. This was probably the book’s biggest flaw, because it meant that the parts which only featured Oliver could sometimes feel a little bland – although having said that, Dickens does sometimes flesh it out with some scathing and sarcastic social commentary, which I always appreciated. But despite the odd chapter which didn’t feel quite so engaging, I thought it was a pretty good story overall and definitely worth a try if you like classic literature.