Quigsnip, subtitled The Untold Tale of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, is Sean Phillips’ attempt at a sequel to Oliver Twist. Like Tony Lee’s Dodge and Twist, Phillips uses Quiqsnip to examine characters and situations in the original book and extend their stories on. The difference is that while Lee goes many years in the future, bringing the Artful Dodger and Oliver back to London as young adults, Phillips takes us closer to the original source by beginning his tale soon after the events in the original.
I guess that the main hero of this book needs no introduction. Oliver is still the same blond haired waif that most are probably more familiar with from the film versions than the original novel. We join him as he gives over a chunk of his wealth to a charity aimed at helping orphans like himself. Fagin, Sykes and the Artful Dodger are all dead – executed for their crimes – but one member of the Fagin gang remains at large – Quigsnip – and he seeks revenge against the boy who ruined all his plans.
And who is Quigsnip? You might be forgiven for thinking that he is a creation of the author, retroactively inserted into the original story background in order to justify the tale. That is certainly what I believed when I first started reading the flashback scenes in which our villain reveals himself. However, without fear of spoilers, I can say that the author has thought of this and has provided an interesting justification for his creation based on a throw away scene in the original novel which. His suggestion is that Dickens may have intended a larger role for this character.
Quigsnip carries out his devious plan and Oliver finds himself caught in a dangerous bind that he must use all of wits and charm to defeat. There follows a reasonably fun romp through Victorian England. Oliver is deprived of his wealth, his family, his friends and his reputation and must fight to win them all back. There are many cameos by characters readers of the novel may recognise and, as an extra bonus, the entire town of Coketown from Hard Times plays an important role.
There are flaws in the plot. Quiqsnip’s plan for example, is overcomplicated and full of potential pitfalls that do not get challenged. Of course this is no different to many schemes carried out by villains in all fictional universes (including Bond) though there are some fairly major flaws. These include a reliance on hypnosis which seems to have a greater power here than it does in the real world – forcing someone to unconsciously perform acts against their personality, something that even fictional hypnosis considers impossible. Phillips also seems to place Coketown a lot closer to London than it is largely believed Dickens intended it to be, which is the approximate location of the North West industrial town of Preston in Lancashire. This tale places it a lot closer, within 100 miles of London. Nevertheless, this is a minor issue and one which does not detract from the tale (unless you are an unforgiving pedant 🙂 ) and does allow Oliver to walk there from London (eventually – even at only 100 miles it is still along walk).
Another issue with the book is the writing style which I think is trying to mimic the style used by Dickens. This is a laudable effort but does lead to the text sometimes seeming bloated and stilted. This issue may be due to modern readers not connecting with an essentially now very old fashioned style or perhaps Phillips not quite managing to deliver the style in an entertaining way. This is not to say the writing is bad, there are in fact areas where it is good, but rather that just as in Karaoke where it is considered a mistake to cover Elvis, it may be ill advised to try to cover Dickens.
Overall I enjoyed this book, especially the interesting essay at the end where the character of Quiqsnip is analysed. Here is revealed the author’s love of the source material. The ending to the fictional tale is also satisfying and includes some suitably Victorian melodrama. Well worth a look.