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Posted March 20, 2003
What the Dickens is up with Dickens?
Ah, Dickens. If only we could spend our days only with you. He truly is The Inimitable. I won't lie to you, folks. This book isn't perfect. If you haven't read David Copperfield, Great Expectations or Oliver Twist (the three i'd read before this one) - i'd go for one of those. Any Dickens novel, though, if its your first, will be a remarkable experience. His devotion to CHARACTER, and PLOT (don't know how to use italics, so capitals will do for emphasis), as opposed to getting bogged down in long dissertations on what he thinks the story's about, like many Victorians did - is incredible. He did so much for creating the NOVEL as we know it today. When you pick up Old Curiosity Shop, or another one, just try and have fun. Settle back in a nice comfortable chair, and go back in time to Victorian England, and walk through the streets with these remarkable characters, characters that you WILL remember after you've turned the final page. And there are memorable characters in this one. Curiosity Shop has copped a lot of flack in recent years on charges of sentimentality. My answer to that is a shrug. The book's also uneven, and i should warn you that its not actually written in the first person - you lose the narrator you begin with after the first few chapters - which i found slightly deceptive. But don't think of it in analytical terms, think of it as a young Dickens, only twenty five, having only published Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelebey, and being the hottest new thing in Victorian England. People wait on streetcorners, howling for the next number of Dickens's journals, which carry monthly installments of his novels. But i can't possibly reproduce, and i won't try, the sights sounds and smells of his stories, which if you sit down with them in a quiet place for long enough, you become part of. The Old Curiosity Shop is really about Nell, a little girl, a pure soul, who's surrounded by a bunch of lunatics! Some of the funny, some of them terrifying. What kept Victorians buying the numbers, i think, was wanting to know what happens to Nell in this horrible atmosphere, but i found myself in sheer delight over the characters - which is the most important thing i ask of a novel.
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Posted August 10, 2010
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