Another Twist in the Tale may be prejudice, but I am a little wary of abridged novels. Yet I am still keen to see today’s children introduced to literary classics. This story is an ideal solution. Inspired by Oliver Twist, the neatly named Another Twist in the Tale works as a brilliant stand-alone, a clever sequel, or as a perfect way into the works of Charles Dickens.
Its premise is that orphaned Oliver had a twin – the extra Twist in the tale – who was abandoned because in Victorian London girls were ‘quite simply… worth less…in pounds, shillings and pence’. This opening immediately achieves three things. It paves the way for a meticulously crafted twin confusion plot. It sets an authentically Dickensian tone. Finally, it ensures that every girl reader (at the very least) is stirred to outrage at such injustice.
Baggage Jones rescues Twill, nurturing her with a fiercely protective love despite the harsh environment. But Twill seems destined to become one of Manzoni’s gamblers’ ornamental Butterflies, ‘a career over in the flutter of a wing’. Baggage is determined to prevent this. When even her desperate measures with cinders and chocolate ganache can no longer disguise Twill’s dazzling beauty, Baggage sends her away into in a safer world of pickpockets and urchin gangs, instantly familiar as Dickens’ London. It is about to become even more familiar as Twill’s first foray into fighting crime involves an iconic top-hatted pickpocket.
The book becomes increasingly enmeshed with the original. It is a delight when characters reappear in different incarnations, sometimes unexpectedly. However, it will not detract from the enjoyment if the reader does not know Oliver’s story. The encounter between Twill and Jack Dawkins would then simply be a splendid confrontation of two strong wills. Catherine Bruton blends borrowed characters and fresh creations with great assurance and authentic exuberance. Monstrous Madame Manzoni could easily have come from his pen and feisty Twill Twist is arguably more convincing than Dickens’ own more pallid heroines.
Dickens wrote in instalments for magazines and needed cliff-hangers so that readers would keep reading. The surprising twists and turns of this fresh tale are true to this tradition. There are kidnappings, deathbed deceptions, dastardly plots and dramatic revelations in this rip-roaring page turner.
The book will appeal to a range of ages. Older readers may have more insight into the grim realities endured by the Butterflies; sensitive writing ensures that younger readers will simply grasp that this is an undesirable, belittling fate. The sentence structure is demanding and the vocabulary unashamedly ambitious so children may benefit from hearing this read aloud. Dickens loved to act out his work as a solo performance and this book suits dramatic rendition. Reading aloud will make the characters’ idiosyncratic speech and dialect burst into life. The story also prompts discussion about fairness and poverty, gender and worth, about parenting and love and about how much you can shape your own future.
Finally, it is an inspiring master class in fan fiction. Catherine Bruton immersed herself in Dickens’ work so deeply that she could recreate it. This novel stands proudly on its own merits and succeeds as literary tribute. In addition, it offers a glimpse of the riches within classic literature and provides a gateway to the wonderful world of Charles Dickens.
Catherine Bruton talks to Nikki Gamble about A Twist in the Tale
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