by Terry Pratchett
If you’re ever in the mood for a cute, light, fluffy, heartwarming story, then you should really think about picking up Dodger.
The book’s eponymous protagonist is an orphaned street urchin who lives in Victorian London and works as a “tosher”--that is, someone who goes into the sewers to find treasures in the trash. When he pops out of a sewer to be ”the knight in soaking armor” to a lady in distress, he suddenly finds that one small act of kindness will change his life in ways he could not have imagined.
Dodger is quite different from the typical Pratchett book, and not just because it doesn’t take place in a flat world travelling on the back of a giant turtle. It’s a gentler story than his other books, even including his young audience books like Amazing Maurice or Wee Free Men. The plot and humour are a bit softer around the edges, and while Pratchett’s love of footnotes and wordplay are still apparent, they’re a little less incisive. Even so, there were a few quotes that stood out in my memory:
“I recall, if you go around telling people that they are downtrodden, you tend to make two separate enemies: the people who are doing the downtreading and have no intention of stopping, and the people who are downtrodden, but nevertheless -- people being who they are -- don't want to know. They can get quite nasty about it.”
The plot itself rather reminds me of the vintage heartwarming variety of nineteenth- or early twentieth- century children’s stories--Cheaper by the Dozen, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Enchanted Castle--that sort of thing. Like those stories, Dodger isn’t particularly suspenseful--it’s clear from the first scene that Dodger will triumph over all adversity-- but it’s fun watching him stumble into serendipitous good fortune. Almost all of the characters are nice people, and they’re not just nice; they’re the type of people you’d enjoy being around. I especially loved Solomon, Dodger’s housemate and unofficial guardian. Much of the enjoyment of the story comes from watching how circumstances conspire to bring about favourable outcomes for the protagonist. It’s the type of book that brings an unconscious smile to your face.
Some of my favourite parts of the story were the cameos from various famous Victorian figures, both historical and apocryphal. The book is practically a Who’s Who of famous and infamous Victorians. As one might expect, a certain Charles Dickens plays a prominent role, but we also have everyone from Robert Peel to Angela Burdett-Coutts to Benjamin Disraeli to Henry Mayhew to the Queen herself. (Guess whether or not she is amused.) Jack the Ripper appears to be active, and Dodger runs across a shellshocked barber named Sweeney Todd. Solomon has a tendency to tell stories about the friends he met on his travels, including a guy named Karl who had an obsession with proletariats.
This isn’t a great choice if you’re in the mood for suspense or shock or enlightenment, but if you’re looking for a light, fun, and above all, cute story, then Dodger is well worth a look.