Book #54: Dodger (2012)

dodgerterrypratchettauthor: Terry Pratchett
language: English
length: 416 pages
finished reading on: 26 March 2014

When I first heard about Dodger, Terry Pratchett’s novel about a character based on the Artful Dodger of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, I immediately thought that it must be just Pratchett writing about London in the same way he’d usually write about Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld novels, since Ankh-Morpork is pretty much a stand-in for Victorian London anyway. To be fair, my assumption was largely right, although it is also more than that.

Pratchett’s vision of London does actually include many characters who really lived in London at the time he is talking about. Charles Dickens is introduced as a character very early on – perhaps implying that the Artful Dodger of his own novels is based on the Dodger from Pratchett’s novel, at least in that universe. Other characters with recognizable names include Benjamin Disraeli, a contemporary Prime Minister, and Pratchett includes a historical postscript detailing how some of the other characters are based on real life. Another obvious example is when Dodger defeats Sweeney Todd, who becomes known as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

In the story, the main character Dodger is what he calls a tosher, meaning someone who scavenges in the sewers. He actually does alright for himself this way, occasionally coming into wealth accidentally by picking up a more valuable than usual coin (all valued in pre-decimal lunacy, of course, things like farthings and sixpences that we don’t have anymore). Then he discovers a girl being attacked by men, and fends them off, then accidentally gets embroiled in an international scandal as a result and becomes known in London’s high society.

One advantage of not being Discworld is that Pratchett is freed up from having to use all his recurring characters all the time – he doesn’t do this in every novel, of course, but frequently it feels like he’s only including a character because he feels obliged. Here he has free reign over who gets into the book. He’s also able to actively explore Victorian history, rather than obliquely alluding to it. As his postscript notes, it’s something he’s had on the backburner for a while, and it’s good that he’s had the chance to write a novel about it while he still can. It’s just a shame that by writing about something non-Discworld, he’s chosen the place that most resembles the Discworld, and I feel like he could have used the opportunity to write about somewhere else instead, or another period.

Ultimately, I didn’t find it as engrossing as I used to find the Discworld when I was a teenager, just like as I must have mentioned on the more recent Discworld reviews, I feel like he’s been losing his touch recently, or at the very least been a bit more hit-and-miss, because I think the Long Earth series was a definite hit. This was fine, indeed exciting, but I wasn’t very motivated to read it. In fact, it’s the first book I’ve actually read (rather than listened to) since November. I think this is as much for time considerations as anything else, since I have been getting through a lot of audiobooks by doubling the use of my time cycling to also listen to audiobooks. But that’s not the full story, because as soon as I finished this book, I devoured another one in about five days (up next!!). So I’m going to go with that: fine, but not engrossing enough to motivate me to keep reading every day.

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