I could have never read this book without the knowledge that it would have a happy ending. Oliver Twist is so unspeakably sad in its opening chapters that I found it difficult to remain a passive reader while hearing so many injustices in a society that debases its poor. (I suppose I felt this way because it reminds me of what is happening to American under the Trump dictatorship.) However, this story of an orphaned boy who runs away from those cruel state actors only to end up in a den of juvenile thieves has so many compelling characters it makes up for the pain of the opening scenes. I must admit it is the villains who have the most interesting sketches. Fagin, the cunning old Jewish thief is almost charming in his knavery, and Bill Sikes is as scary a bogeyman as you would ever care to meet in fiction or in life. (Even his dog hates him, it seems, although he follows his master to death at the end.) The good guys, Mr. Brownlow and his friend, Mr. Grimwig, are not as well drawn, although each has his moments. Oliver Twist has been criticized for being too formulaic and predictable in its plot, and perhaps that is true, but after spending a number of pleasant evenings with Charles Dickens in my reading chair, I am inclined to overlook the incredible coincidences of the story.  If you have never read Dickens, I would heartily recommend starting with this book.

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