After A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist is probably Dickens' most famous and adapted work. Back in 2012 I was fortunate enough to see a touring production of Oliver! The Musical which I absolutely loved :) But now that I've finally got round to reading Charles Dickens' novel I realise that my love for that particular stage production was more to do with the Lionel Bart songs and Samantha Barks' performance as Nancy than its story. Oliver Twist is my fifth Dickens book and it's unquestionably my least favourite. I really didn't like this one. Whereas the Fagin of the Lionel Bart musical is mostly used to provide comic relief, the Fagin of Dickens' book is a far more evil and sinister character. He has no redeeming features whatsoever and is constantly referred to as "The Jew". Fagin isn't a villain who just so happens to be Jewish either. His villainy and Jewishness always seem to be linked. I know that prejudice towards Jews was rife in Dickens' time but I still found the racism in the book rather upsetting. Another issue that I had with this book was Oliver Twist himself. He's so cloying! He always says and does the right thing, doesn't appear to have any flaws, is completely pure and innocent, and even talks in a more refined way than the other child characters do in this book. He's so good that it's sickening! Urgh! And my third and final problem with Oliver Twist was all of those massive coincidences. Mr Brownlow turn out to be the best friend of Oliver's father, Rose Maylie turns out to be the younger sister of Oliver's mother, and Monks turns out to be Oliver's evil half-brother! I know that London was a lot smaller back in Dickens' time but how many long-lost relatives can Oliver keep bumping into?! I could have accepted Oliver meeting just one long-lost relative but three?!
Having said all that, I have to say that I didn't hate this book because I was still able to find a couple of things about it that I liked: namely the visual imagery and atmosphere of London and the character of Nancy - who might well be a 17 year old heavy drinking prostitute but is by far the most well-rounded, interesting and complex character in the entire book. Nancy has an inner kindness and strength that sets her apart from Fagin and the other members of his gang. She strikes me as being the female equivalent of Sydney Carton.