Charles Dickens and Friends

Retelling Dickens is a difficult business at the best of times. Here Williams recasts the format as well as the narrative; there are five novels crammed into the 46 pages of this large-format picturebook, with busy pictures, often twelve cells to a page, spilling over into marginalia with special detail for the sharp of eye. The narrative is carried by three or four lines of text beneath each illustration. The occasional speech bubble replicates Dickens’s text, whereas the text beneath the pictures is Williams’s own. The mêlée created by such busyness does, to a certain extent, recall the almost oppressive detail of the originals, and, in reproducing the more hectic novels (A Tale of Two Cities, especially), is effective in suggesting the swift and tumultuous events. The palette changes from text to text, and colour is used evocatively, but the style of the drawing, especially the simply rendered facial expressions, stays the same, and there’s an air of suppressed hilarity in the majority of the pictures that often belies the text beneath them, especially in the retelling of Oliver Twist. Overall, the book is well conceived, but, I think, shies away from risking moments of necessary gravitas.