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For the young, Dickens can wait, Mr Gibb

Every child should read a Dickens novel by the age of 11 -- that's the view of British Education Minister Nick Gibb, who suggested in this bicentenary of the great writer's birth that Great Expectations would be a good book with which to start.

Well, only if you want to put children off literature for life. Great Expectations is a long, dense, sometimes disturbing and decidedly adult novel which I didn't find easy reading even in my 20s.

I wonder if Mr Gibb read it at the age of 11 himself or if, like many, he first encountered Dickens through film and television adaptations of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities and, indeed, Great Expectations itself in the form of David Lean's marvellous 1946 movie.

That's the most likely way in which children will be drawn to this incomparable storyteller and social critic. In terms of reading, though, they should be left to immerse themselves in the books appropriate to their age and development, whether these be Richmal Crompton's William escapades, WE Johns's Biggles adventures or JK Rowling's flights of magical fancy.

Dickens can wait.

You might as well exhort children to read The Great Gatsby. Seventeen is the age at which I first read F Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, yet even though I was bewitched by his wonderful prose it wasn't until some years later that the real force and richness of the novel registered.

However, it fared badly in film adaptations, which reduced its haunting essence to plot mechanics and gaudy display -- though I always preferred Alan Ladd's enigmatic Gatsby in the run-of-the-mill 1949 movie to Robert Redford's vacuous portrayal in the dreary 1974 version.

And now we're awaiting Baz Luhrmann's take on it, with Leonardo Di Caprio as the doomed hero, Carey Mulligan as the feckless Daisy and Tobey Maguire as narrator Nick Carraway.

Maybe it will be a masterpiece, but I just might content myself with yet another re-reading of the book.

Indo Review