While I’ve been reading brand-new books and others that have languished on my to-read list, I’ve been trying to read books on my shelf that I own and haven’t cracked open yet. I’ve had a years-long stack that just hasn’t gotten read, so I thought if I checked out some of the audiobooks, I could get through that list faster. Oliver Twist was one of those books on my shelf.
Charles Dickens is known for his picaresque tales of poverty, suffering, and corruption in England, and Oliver Twist is no exception. The titular character is born to a disgraced teenaged mother who dies in childbirth carrying a secret. Oliver grows up in a workhouse amid starvation and cruelty. A series of circumstances has him running away from his apprenticeship at the age of 11, and he accidentally winds up in the hands of a pick-pocketing gang run by Fagin and Bill Sikes. More twists of fate land him in good hands, then misfortune, and then other changes in fortune.
The first half reads like Black Beauty—mistreatment, happiness, mistreatment. Or, as I called it on Goodreads, “suffering porn.” The second half reads much faster than the first half. When Dickens moves away from the overbearing description and cartoonishly discomfiting depiction of Fagin (I won’t debate the anti-Semitism here, because while unsurprising for the time, it’s thoroughly distasteful to read today), he hones a sharp criticism of systematic corruption and mistreatment of the poor. This is definitely not my favorite Dickens, but I do so enjoy the murder mysteries and legal entanglements he writes over the soppier tales of suffering in other novels. I would recommend reading this at least once, but it is hard to get into at first