My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dickens creates such an terrifying circumstance for the little tyke at the very start, one cannot help but wish to uplift young Oliver Twist (and his little friends). I wanted to take him home and give him some hot chocolate and a pat on the head, hell, I would keep him for sure! He has kindness and compassion in his heart which will not be easily corroded. Almost everyone is out to manipulate the kid, even the ones – like the young girl Nance – I hoped would be helpful to him. He is abducted to dark and narrow streets of London, where the dirt and mud and impoverishment reflect the broken spirits living there. He is taught how to be a thief. The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates are lively little crooks, underlings of Fagin, and Sikes (with his mean dog in tow) is a frightful and towering king of this underworld.
This book establishes a nice rhythm and is narrated very well (strong and consistent voice). Many of Dickens’ books were first published as serials in the London papers. I had to find out how Oliver would make out in the end, if he was to survive at all. Plenty of others like him died of starvation, fever, neglect, and broken hearts. Others turned to crime and saw the gallows. These were mean streets of old London, and Dickens does not spare us the details. In fact, he holds a candle to it all. He brings you into the darkest corners, then gets your adrenaline up as Oliver’s situation becomes inadvertently hopeful, before being lost again to the murky, insensate underworld. It takes one who initially betrayed him and others who gave up looking for him, to unite and try to save him from a terrible fate on the streets. In the process, the mystery of his birth is unraveled. Aside from his rich/poor politics and narrow portrayal of Jews, I love the way Dickens tells a story. This story.