Dodger (by Terry Pratchett)

I’ve read and liked all of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, although I first came across his writing in the excellent ‘Bromeliad’ series intended for children. I wasn’t quite so keen on some of his others, but relatives recommended this one, so I put it on my wishlist and was given it a few months ago.

‘Dodger’ is set in Victorian London, although the author freely admits that it’s a kind of fantasy version; it’s not dissimilar from Ankh-Morpork, although the sentient inhabitants are mainly human, plus a few dogs and horses, and large numbers of rats. The star of this book is a young man called Dodger who works as a ‘tosher’. I didn’t know the word, but apparently it was a profession, of sorts, in the era. It refers to someone who scavenges in sewers for coins and other lost valuables.

However the story opens with a young woman escaping in terror from a coach, and being rescued by Dodger who pops up conveniently from a nearby sewer. He’s not a run-of-the-mill tosher; he is intelligent, and quick, and generous, and lives with an elderly Jewish man called Solomon. Dodger rescues the girl and finds himself thrown into a rather different world inhabited by ‘nobs’ such as Charlie Dickens, the well-known journalist. T through the book there are humorous asides as Dickens notes down phrases or ideas that would later be used in his novels.

The style is that of an adventure story for children, as Dodger finds himself repeatedly in danger, vanquishing villains without intending to, donning disguises, coming up with a master plan… and moving up in the world in many ways. He meets famous - and infamous - people of the era, all of whom seem to like him despite his outspokenness and lack of polish.

The author admits that he took some liberties with the time frames, and that wasn’t a problem although more serious historians might object. As a piece of social history it works well; I now know considerably more about Victorian England, and its sewer system in particular, than I ever did before.

However, some of the subject matter is not at all suitable for children. While they might laugh at some of the ‘bathroom’ humour and mention of unmentionables, there are unpleasant descriptions of violence and a decaying corpse that could be very disturbing to a sensitive child. Moreover, although there’s nothing explicit, there are several overt references to ‘adult’ topics that should give it at least a ‘12’ rating, in my opinion.

It’s not a long book and I did enjoy it, despite the somewhat sordid themes; Dodger is a likeable rogue, and I found myself entirely caught up in his plot towards the end, with little idea where it was going.

Recommended to adults and teenagers who don’t mind a few liberties taken with historical fiction.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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