Friday, March 27, 2009

Dickens Revisited

Are you ever in the mood to read something Dickensian? Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief has all the ingredients. For starters, the main character is a 12-year-old orphan boy with a missing left hand, named Ren because those were the initials found sewn into the collar of his nightshirt when he was left at Saint Anthony's Orphanage as an infant. His best friends are two orphan twins with the wonderful names of Brom and Ichy. When Ren is adopted by the mysterious Benjamin Nab, he is thrown into a world that seems to be the New England equivalent of the Victorian London of Oliver Twist, with Benjamin as his Fagin.

Every chapter brings new adventures, new revelations and new scrapes for Ren. And what a cast Tinti has imagined. When was the last time you read a novel that had both a dwarf and a giant as important characters? As Ren and Benjamin travel through New England, getting into and out of trouble, they encounter grave robbers, hired killers, kind souls, evil blackguards...and a mousetrap factory. And of course, as in all good orphan stories, Ren is trying to find his real parents and to learn why they abandoned him.

Tinti's style, unlike Dickens, is quite straightforward and matter of fact. As a result you find yourself accepting without question the unusual events. Dwarf coming down a chimney? Sure, I've got no problem with that. Grave robbers find a live one? Makes perfect sense.

There are certain books I categorize as 'stop-missers'. This refers to my commuting days, when, engrossed in a particularly compelling book, I would miss my stop. "The Good Thief" definitely belongs in this category.

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