Oliver's Greatcoat

I was less than ten years old when I was given a copy of Oliver Twist for Christmas or birthday. It was a small-format Collins hardcover, blue-bound, with the Collins fountain logo stamped in silver on the front cover. The pages were very thin, so much so that in places the print from the other side, too heavy in places, showed through, making reading difficult.

I read avidly, and was delighted at Oliver's rescue. At that point, of course, things take a turn for the worse. When Oliver, carrying his benefactor's books, is kidnapped by Nancy, my heart sank, and I put the book away.

At the moment, I'm reading Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, edited by Robert Chandler. The first story is Pushkin's The Queen of Spades, the third is Gogol's The Greatcoat. Reading Gogol, I had that same feeling of impending doom as Akaky Akakiyevich makes his way back from the party whose pretext is his new greatcoat.

It took me some years to pick Oliver Twist up again. I think I finished it in my mid-teens. My expectation of a satisfying resolution may have sustained me. If so, Dickens did not disappoint. Gogol offers no such promise, but I am grown-up now, so I pressed on through my dread. Gogol did not disappoint.