This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
Oliver Twist is a funny entertaining book that reminded me a lot of Don Quixote, especially in terms of the subtle irony and humorous chapter titles. It also had the "this is a true history" quality in the same way Don Quixote did. There appeared to be a strong theme of highlighting the social injustices of the time, and while I appreciated much of this, I imagine that for a contemporary of Dickens, it was even more obvious.
The best parts of Oliver Twist for me centered around the characters themselves. For example, the moment when Oliver is taken from Mr. Brownlow was devastating. Just when things were finally looking up for the gentle, sweet boy, he is forced back into the miserable den of thieves. Even there, however, hope is found when Nancy treats him with love and support.
A more tragic, but still powerful moment, was the death of Nancy. It wasn't particularly graphic, but the way in which Dickens crafts the scene caused me to be extremely upset. Nancy, despite having no intention of harming Sikes or Fagin, was killed for helping Oliver. What made this moment even worse, however, was the fact that Rose had offered Nancy a way out of her miserable life, but she returned because she loved the very man who would kill her. Heartbreaking, and devastating all around.
In general, I really enjoyed how funny the book was. From the ironic and sarcastic opening sentence: "Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter" (1).
To what is, quite possibly, the greatest chapter tile I have ever read: "Is a very short one, and may appear of no great importance in its place. But it should be read, notwithstanding, as a sequel to the last, and a key to the one that will follow when its time arrives" (277). It may not seem like much, but I love when a book has fun with the very fact that it is a book, in a meta (without being annoyingly self-referential) way.
The only thing I didn't really like was how perfectly everything worked out. I mean, Oliver is not only saved from his life of crime, but ends up with a friend of his father's, his aunt, etc. etc. The only reason this wasn't more annoying was because of how this happiness was mixed in with the bittersweet death of Nancy and the pathetic end of Fagin. Still, from Oliver's perspective, the good coincidences come a little too fast and thick near the end.
Ultimately, though, Oliver Twist should be read for its fascinating cast of characters and the wonderfully crafted writing of Dickens. If you are expecting some great mystery novel that can be "figured out" along the way, this book is not for you. If you want to be entertained, however this is an excellent choice.
Two small notes. 1 - this book reminded me of The Tale of Genji in the sense that it worked much better when read in longer bursts. Perhaps because it also had a large cast of characters, it would often not get very interesting until I let myself get immersed for more than 30 minutes or so of reading. 2 - I read this while listening to the young adult book The Amulet of Samarkand. Perhaps because they both centered on young English boys, or just because I read them at the same time, I felt these books had a lot of similarities and complemented each other pretty well.
"Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter."Charles Dickens the First Line of Oliver Twist
"[P]ride - the vice of the lowest and most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured. The miserable companion of thieves and ruffians, the fallen outcast of low haunts, the associate of the scourings of the jails and hulks, living within the shadow of the gallows itself."Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist