Eccentric Musings (jakaEM)

"I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy." Emily Brontë


still figuring this place out - Jen W

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Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro
Progress: 115/288 pages
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens, Philip Horne Copy-edited. Just in case you thought I was a complete doofus the first-time round.

Yes, I am giving Oliver Twist one star.

What went wrong here? Oh, about a million things. First, the single reason I decided to read this book is because I got a new dog recently, and I named him Oliver Twist. Then I realized I hadn't actually read his namesake, and I really like Dickens, and well ... it's orphans, right? ... and there was this lovely new Penguin hardcover all nubbly and pretty and ....

... and now I'm three books behind my GR Reading Challenge - blast it all to hell and back again!!!!! hahahaha (ok, well that has more to do with the canine OT than this book), butttttttt:

I love Dickens when his characters are over-the-top caricatures crafted with blind rage against the poverty and injustice they - and he - experienced at their core - not when they are shallow, one-dimensional, and here in one case, racist, clich├ęs. It was almost like he couldn't describe the horrific conditions of Oliver's early life well enough; he couldn't sustain it. He couldn't get close to it, likely because he was too close to it.

We knew too early the kid was going to be okay.

I love Dickens when his sentences and his plots are as convoluted, dark and edgy as the rank London streets and jails he describes. When his language skates so far beyond purple prose into the most delicious hyperbole that it makes you want to grab a placard and march behind him yelling slogans and demanding justice.

Mostly, I love Dickens when I feel politically aligned with him - and here, I didn't. He almost had too much sympathy for "the bad guys." Bumble was ... bumbling and an idiot, but easily dismissed and quickly defrocked (I choose that word deliberately). Sikes was evil incarnate, but we didn't get to see enough truly evil ACTS or thoughts; we saw him through the lenses of other characters -- Fagin - could there be a more ambiguous bad guy? and Nancy, in particular -- both of whose viewpoints were compromised by their own ambiguity.

Coming back to the language. Usually, I find Dickens more controlled, more consistent, more intentional with his rhetoric. Here, I swear he must have sub-contracted out some of these chapters. They were wildly inconsistent in tone and style one to the next. Maybe he could get away with that as it was being published in its original format, but jam-packed all together like this (granted, I read it about as slowly as it was originally intended), it was glaringly obvious that he was experimenting with style over the course of it, got easily distracted in several spots and then -- with something akin to arrogance at his own ability to fool most of the people most of the time -- overconfidently came back in the next chapter to apologize for the sins of the last. It made for a very frustrating and anger-provoking reading experience.

I confess I don't know any of the context in which this was written, so feel free to correct my argument by providing context. One thing I would like to know is whether all of Dickens's novels were originally published serially, or only a few, OT among them. I'm thinking that what I like/dislike among his oeuvre may fall along those lines. I like the wholly-composed novel: the one where Dickens knows exactly where he will take the reader, puts you in the palm of his hand from the first chapter, but doesn't reveal where you're going (except to give you the confidence that the destination will be worth the journey) until the very last. That's the Dickens I love.

This, not so much. I may have to change my dog's name. :-p