There are a million and one reasons why OLIVIA TWIST is everything I hang my bookish hat on.
“That small inner voice that most women ignore because they’re too concerned with living the life others expect."
“With Jack’s presence, the room brightened as if several more candelabras followed him into that room. A smile that seemed to originate deep in Olivia’s chest stretched her lips without her consent.”
It is everything a book experience SHOULD BE. It is everything LIFE should be. It is a gaslit Victorian carousel of pickpockets and villains, rickety pubs, railing danger and clandestine meetings with handbrushes that send tingles to your toes and harrowing meetings on London Bridge. Olivia Twist marries a well known trope while finding footing in a dazzling new world. Though not fantastical as it is rooted deep in perfectly-researched Victorian London, the heart-pounding feeling you get as the curtain is pulled back on its colourful universe makes you feel you are stepping into another world. It is my favourite type of read.
It takes you into a place of nostalgia while offering a unique tug into a world at once familiar and surprising. It elicits all manner of giggles and gasps and blanket-gripping tension as you think you know how it will end, but you are not quite sure. It reminds you why you love reading in the first place.
Olivia Twist finds a brilliant balance between source material novel and famous adaptation and adds another layer to this delicious cake. Cameos from the book like Monks and Fagin are paired with the sheer heart behind the musical that introduced many of us to Dickens (the musical, it should be said, is a gateway drug). And while the book is gifted with subtle lovely nods to red roses and mornings whose sunshine you want to buy and bottle, it springboards into its own realm of adventure.
Basically, if you love Oliver Twist—in any form---you have come to the right party. If you love Dickens, you have come to the right party. If you love cross-dressing female heroines, you have come to the right party.
If you love ROMANCE that will strangle you breath and pulse your heart into a gallop from the first unexpected meeting between two people who used to know each other ( one knowing a little more about one than the other), then you have found a virtual literary rager.
A heroine of agency and heart who reminded me a lot of Wonder Woman for some reason ( weird contemporary link, I know ); but like WW, Olivia has a kind heart, even if you never want to run into a bout of fisticuffs with her. Like WW, Olivia would see a baby and melt, taste ice cream and melt, care of her elderly guardian by day playing the winsome socialite while sneaking out be-wigged to help a band of orphans at night.
It is this perfect balance of scrappy and sophisticated that pairs a wonderful example of the complexity of women. To be strong, Langdon asserts, does not mean shrugging out of femininity. Likewise, to enjoy finesse and have a caring maternal view does not undermine strength.
“She blinked up at him and he was Dodger again. The rough-and-tumble street kid with the heart of gold.”
Then there’s Dodger who is at once sweet cinnamon roll of vulnerability and savvy, scrappy pickpocket late of Fagin’s influence. He is our guide to the underworld while, like Olivia, balancing a life of high social standing and finding it a bit like a sweater with sleeves too long for him.
While I was delightfully on the edge of my seat to reacquaint myself with well known characters against a well known canvas in a new backdrop, I think the most surprising aspect of the novel for me was its amazing portrayal of sacrifice: something I was not expecting. It is here that the subtle and deft touch of faith is interwoven within a compelling world at large. If your soul is not strangled in breath-gulps by the end ---by either the beautiful writing or the sob inducing choice one is willing to make in the spirit of true love—then go sit in a corner with a lump of black coal.
Oh! And the writing? See, the writing. Friends, sometimes a book springboards to life because its sizzles and sparks with the author’s heart. You can feel the author’s passion through the page. This is one of those books. Reading this I felt I had found new fictional friends, yes, but also a kindred spirit in the pen behind the page. In OLIVIA TWIST, Langdon’s obvious love for this world of story plays fast and loose to win us completely. It’s her gift. It’s an act of sharing. This passion is a portal for gorgeously lyrical writing that at turns grips and surprises.
“Haze draped the skyline of the city like the oozing, yellow center of a stale egg” (I mean, come on! It whiffs of Dickens but with an originality of its own)
“Peels of fog slithered and curled over the cobbles.” ( COME ON!)
“Their skirts sweeping against the cobblestones like a thousand whispers” (because consonance is the spice of life. Like Dickens before her, Langdon’s prose begs to be read aloud)
With all the thanks to Blink YA for the review copy of an anticipated book that shattered my expectations and winnowed its way to my FOREVER READ SHELF