With winter giving way for spring at last (even if slowly), I’ve not had as much time for reading lately. Somehow I got off to a slow start with Terry Pratchett’s Dodger a couple of weeks ago. Found it kind of long-drawn for a while - although that may have been “me” rather than the book, I don’t really know! …
This weekend however I managed to pick up the thread again and enjoyed the second half more. This may have something to do with also making an effort to try and sort out what was pure fantasy vs reality. Because this is not one of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and the story actually takes place in a sort of grey zone (or ‘fog’, as Dodger might call it) between the two. (Pratchett himself calls it “a fantasy based on a reality”). The setting is 19th century London, and some of the characters are historical while others are fictional.
If you do not consider yourself an expert on British 19th century history, I would actually recommend starting with the “Author’s acknowledgements and excuses with, at no extra cost, some bits of vocabulary and usage” (found at the back of the book). I wish I had… Because there you will learn some of those things that kept me bewildered and looking up things in Wikipedia all the time.
I had no difficulty, of course, in recognizing the author Charles Dickens. Benjamin Disraeli also rang a bell – but who exactly was he again? (British 19th century prime minister) And what about Beau Brummel (credited with introducing, and establishing as fashion, the modern men's suit), Joseph Bazalgette (creator of the modern London sewerage system), Sir Robert Peel (creator of the modern English police force, and the reason policemen became known as "Bobbies" or "Peelers"), Angela Burdett-Coutts (the wealthiest woman in England in the mid 1800s), Henry Mayhew (an English social researcher and journalist and co-founder of the satirical and humorous magazine Punch), Sweeney Tood (fictional 19th century character of debated origin – a barber who murdered his clients). And last but not least – did the Romans actually worship a goddess called Cloacina, goddess of sewer systems? Surely not?? (Yes they did!)
However, as Pratchett himself says: “certain tweaks were needed to get people in the right place at the right time” – and in the middle of it all we have a young man known as Dodger, invented my Mr Pratchett (but who could just as well have been a character in a novel by Mr Dickens). Dodger is a ‘tosher’ which means he lives by looking for odd coins and jewellry etc dropped in the old Roman sewer system under London. We also have a wise old Jew, a smelly dog, and a young woman in serious trouble…
Well, as I don’t want to spoil the actual story for you, I think that’s all you need to know, really! :)
Dodger lived in a world where nobody asked questions apart from “How much?” and “What’s in it for me?”
He wondered why people needed all these things, when he himself could carry everything he owned in quite a small bag, not counting the bedroll. It seemed to be something that happened when you were rich.
There were quite a number of people whom he could trust, but there were, as it were, several stages of trust, ranging from those he could trust with a sixpence to those he would trust with his life.
Linking to: Musing Mondays (April 29)