Most people know the 1960s musical and/or a simplified version of this book from school. It’s surprising just how much of the actual plot is unfamiliar when you first read this. Oliver, the eponymous ‘hero’ of Dickens’ novel, is really a very minor part of the action, mostly there to move the action along and to be a stimulus for other characters with more interesting stories.
The heart of the story is, of course, the workhouse orphan’s escape to London, how he falls in with thieves but finds sanctuary with a benevolent patron. But it is everyone around him that makes up the story, Oliver is a very negligible character for much of the book, and often speaks in an over-the-top sentimental way, much like Little Nell.
The poverty and impoverishment of Dickens’ London is clear and real, and Jonathan Pryce brings every character out with an appropriate voice, you forget it’s a man narrating the women. His Fagin sounds just like Ron Moody, Oliver is cloying and sweet, but that’s as he’s written. Dickens himself, as author, is almost another character as he waxes lyrical on the subjects close to his heart of the mistreatment of society’s poorest, the hypocrisy of the wealthy, the social injustices of the era. It’s a call to action for his compatriots, and a historical lesson for us.
Oliver Twist works as an audiobook, with multiple voices all distinct, a narrator talking to us, though the intricate dual plots of Fagin/Sykes and Monks, with the usual Dickens mystery twists makes it one you need to concentrate on. There are two ‘benefactors’ as well, and the stories intertwine, so it’s a complex tale centred around little Oliver, but drawing from multiple strands.
Well worth the time to investigate the full novel.
Katy Noyes 5/5
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Audible Studios audiobook Apr 2019