This reads like a children’s classic in a Dickensian style minus the verbosity. More on that later.
What I love most about this novel are the characters, the story, and the writing style.
This story takes place in England, 1724. Oliver, his sister Charity, and his father Gabriel are a poor family surrounded by criminal masterminds. Charity goes to London and Oliver wakes up and realizes that not only is his father missing, but also their house is flooded from a storm. His father left him a note, but it’s waterlogged and he can’t read it. He has no money and their food is spoiled. He wants to go to London to reunite with his family, but has no idea how he’ll pay for the stagecoach to get there. His journey to London is full of adventure and obstacles. Throughout the novel, I kept thinking this was called The Unfortunate Life…He’s not facing minor obstacles, he’s facing a lot of hardship, plus he feels that his life is in constant danger. It wasn’t until the end that the title felt truly appropriate.
Oliver says throughout the novel, “Please, sir”, which always reminded me of the famous line in Oliver Twist, ”Please, sir. I want some more.” Oliver is a smart, resourceful twelve year old, although he’s small for his size and people often think he’s younger. His sister Charity is six years older than he is and plays a motherly role since Oliver’s mother died in childbirth. Their father Gabriel is, well, inept and full of empty promises. There’s a character whose first name is Ebenezer. There are so many criminals in this story! I’m not going to give a rundown of all the characters, but I will say that there are a lot of interesting ones. They’re developed enough for you to either care about them or hate them to the core. I will mention that Jonathan Wild is a character and he’s based on a real person.
The story almost has a constantly feeling of hopelessness, because every time Oliver turns around, he has another hurdle to overcome. What did give me hope was Oliver’s fighting spirit, persistence and Charity’s love for her brother. I loved Oliver’s adventures even if they did involve highwaymen and a brief stay in a poorhouse. There’s never a dull moment. The ending is left open. In fact, the last line of the novel says, (view spoiler)[”To be continued in Book Two”
The storytelling makes this a real page-turner. The pacing felt right on target. I can’t think of any moment when I wanted to skim to get to the good parts. It’s descriptive without feeling overdone. The dialogue makes the characters sound distinct. It was so easy to visualize the movie in my mind as I read it. There were plenty of sensory details.
As I said earlier, this has a Dickensian style. There were several aspects of this novel that made me think this. One aspect was the character names of Oliver and Ebenezer. Another was the predicaments of the main characters. They were poor and Oliver went to a poorhouse. Mostly, the writing style and overall tone reminded me of Dickens. It has a proper English tone in the narrative voice, but also has informal dialect in some of the dialogue. Here are a few quotes that may help explain what I mean.
”A solitary candle provided a pale yellow flickering, which threw out more dejection than light, the very replication of our minds.”
“Nary a friendly face did I see anywhere.”
“I could not think or breathe, though I could weep, and did, the kind of choking, sobbing cry that shakes the whole body and soul.”
As I was reading this, I could easily hear Simon Vance narrating the audiobook. In addition, there were Bible quotes that I thought were appropriate to the story.
I do have a tiny continuity error to mention. It’s not a big deal, but something that I noticed. Oliver is described as having curly, brown hair, but the boy on the cover has straight hair. With the light and shadow on the cover design, it also looks like his hair could be dark blond instead of brown. I know. I’m sort of nitpicking.
I have one other minor issue to mention. A young man is questioning Oliver and asks him if he heard about a wrecked ship in town being looted. The young man says to Oliver, ”Did you have a hand in that? Is that why you’re on the road at night?” When I read that, it just felt like it was too big of a leap in logic.
Overall, I loved this novel and I’m looking forward to reading another AVI novel. I recommend The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts to anyone who enjoys children’s historical fiction. It’s a quick, entertaining read.
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