Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1837
Challenges: The Classics Club
Rating: Three and a half out of five
Reread

Synopsis:
The story of an orphan named Oliver, who runs away from his life in the work house and as an apprentice for a coffin maker and escapes to London. It is here that he runs into Fagin and his band of thieves and criminals and reluctantly is drawn into the seedy underworld of London and the lives of villain Bill Sikes, the artful Dodger and the prostitute Nancy. Oliver is not like those that haunt the criminal streets of the city and seems defined to escape this life and live the life of a gentleman.

My Thoughts:
As a child we used to have a VHS that had Oliver and Annie on it and I can remember watching the video on repeat at my aunty’s and singing along to the songs. I loved Oliver and the whole setting of Victorian England and the story stayed ingrained in my mind for years to come. It wasn’t until I was 19/20 that I saw an adaptation of Oliver that changed it from this charming musical romp to a more sinister and dark tale of murder, crime and mystery. It was this TV programme that made me want to read the novel, primarily because of the character Monks who has a mysterious grudge against young Oliver and this is the third time I have read Oliver Twist. This time I did read it for The Classics Club Spin and I think if it wasn’t for this I might not necessarily have picked it up this time round. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the story, as I did, but I don’t think it was the right book for Christmas time and the chaos that this brings. I found my mind wandering in the middle section of the novel, which was easy to do as I have read it before. I did enjoy the last one hundred pages or so as the narrative unravels and different characters get their comeuppance, although I do good a little whimper when poor Bullseye dies. I’m not denying that Dickens is a fantastic writer or that Oliver Twist doesn’t deserve its place as one of his most famous novels, but I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read it. That being said I do love his depiction of London and the darker side of the city, especially the idea that it really is luck of the draw if you end up destitute on the streets or saved by a kindly benefactor.

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The Old Curiosity Shop

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I suffer terribly from whattoreadnextitis so events like The Classics Club Spin are fantastic for making the decision for me and also ensuring I regularly read books from my Classics Club list. I find I am also more determined to read/finish the book if I know it is for some type of challenge or if there is a strict (ish) deadline. So the second spin came round and I ended up with Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, so that is two spins in a row where I have ended up with fairly lengthy books, both of which I haven’t read before, but my authors whose other work I have read and studied in the past; my first spin book was Charlotte Bronte’s Vilette.

The Old Curiosity Shop follows the life of Little Nell, forced to flee with her elderly grandfather after he loses all his money (and the shop of the title) to a rather maleficent dwarf by the name of Quilp, we shadow their plight to get as far away from their misfortunes as possible. Along the way Nell has to help her grandfather escape from the evil temptations of gambling their worldly goods away. Fortunately they meet many kindhearted people who are willing to help them, from an old lady who owns a traveling wax work company to a kindly old schoolmaster. Meanwhile back in London (dun, dun, dun) Quilp is terrorising whoever dares cross his path, tormenting his long suffering wife and mother-in-law and framing Nell’s old friend, Kit.

I knew very little about The Old Curiosity Shop before I started reading it, apart from one main plot feature that meant I knew the inevitable outcome of the story, but luckily I wasn’t fazed by this. It is a fairly long read, but with really only a handful of characters (in comparison to some Dickens’ novels) so I was able to easily follow the action and keep up with the narrative between school and reading other books for my enrichment. It was an ok read, but I can’t say it is one I will be returning to or strongly recommending to everyone I meet. I just felt it lacked something; the narrative was good, but it wasn’t really exciting; Quilp was a convincing bad guy, but not quite evil enough; Nell was sweet, but not really memorable in my eyes. In fact my favourite ‘character’ in the whole novel was a pony, which pretty much says it all if you ask me. Admittedly he was a very obstinate and stubborn pony, but surely he shouldn’t be the character I remember the most? I read The Old Curiosity Shop on my Kindle and the only note I made was linked to this pony and the first time we meet him.

The pony ran off at a sharp angle to inspect a lamp-post on the opposite side of the way, and then went off on a tangent to another lamp-post on the other side. Having satisfied himself that they were of the same patterns and materials, he came to a stop apparently absorbed in meditation.

Overall an average read and probably not one I will be rushing to pick up in a few years time, but I am now officially 1/5 of the way through my Classics Club list so yay! Definitely in need of something light hearted and modern for my next read!

David Copperfield

I came to David Copperfield with very little prior knowledge of the novel; I knew it had been adapted for TV with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and I knew the DVD was on my shelf, but I wanted to avoid it until I had read the book…a wise choice I like to think!

David Copperfield is a bildungsroman/coming of age novel (I always remember that first term from my A Level days and Jane Eyre and I love it) following David’s life from his poor and somewhat cruel childhood throughout the trials and tribulations of his adult life and culminating in his success as a novelist. Dickens explores the life of David and also the lives of various people he encounters along the way; this is a novel of many narrative threads, all of which are tied together at the end of the novel, some happily, some not.

This was definitely a novel of two halves for me, perhaps something that seems obvious considering it leads from childhood to adulthood, but that is beside the point. Although I enjoyed reading about David’s childhood and I loved how he created little hints and mysteries with comments such as ‘this may be premature. I have set it down too soon, perhaps. But let it stand.’, it was the second half of the novel that won me round. For me the pace of the narrative picked up in the second half of the novel; the problem with having several storylines is the time it takes to introduce and set up the characters and their separate struggles. Luckily Dickens is a master at characterisation, I especially loved Peggotty and her flying buttons! But yes the second half of the novel made the narrative come alive for me through all the interlinking storylines and my (failed) attempts to second guess what was going to happen next – I couldn’t put it down and wanted to race to the end to find out everyone’s fate, despite the fact the character of Dora drove me up the wall – she was just a little too immature and for want of a better word, sappy for me.

One of the things I enjoy with Victorian novels, and perhaps novels in general, is the choice of a character’s name, again something I remember from A Level and Jane Eyre, and there were two names in particular that I felt epitomised the characteristics of the person involved: Murdstone and Steerforth. Murdstone immediately brings connotations of murkiness for me, of someone harsh, perhaps with an ulterior motive, but it is Steerforth who has the most explicit name in the whole novel. As soon as he was introduced I knew he would be a cad – his name seems to suggest that you need to steer clear of him, and the fact that he is handsome, admired and powerful enough to have a schoolmaster sacked and have the ominous Mr. Creakle (Head of Salam’s House School) under control only helps to reinforce this notion. I look forward to my next Victorian novel and the mysteries a new set of names will hold.