By Christy McDougall, guest blogger
A few years ago, the world learned, to its great dismay, that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer’s. Well, it doesn’t show in one of his latest books, Dodger. Dodger is a rollicking romp through Dickensian London, with the occasional interference of some famous historical personage and occasional discursions into philosophical matters.
Pratchett’s Discworld series of fantasies has been one of my favorite book series for about ten years now, but I’ve never read one of his non-Discworld books, until Dodger. But who could not want to read a book that combines Terry Pratchett’s writing with Charles Dickens’s world? So I picked it up about two months ago, read half of it in one sitting, put it down because life (and Christmas) intervened, and didn’t even think of it again for at least a month, at which point I picked it up again and finished it in one sitting. Pratchett’s writing is like that, I’ve found. I can go for months without wanting to read even a book of his I’ve already started, but once I start reading it again, I can’t put it down.
Dodger’s storyline is not very Dickensian, since it doesn’t involve 26 different storylines interwoven in a highly convoluted and entertaining manner, but it contains some Dickensian motifs: the street boy who makes good; the character with a secret past; the girl in trouble; the intersection of highly unlikely and dramatic characters (in Dodger’s case, every famous person who ever existed at the time of Charles Dickens’s greatest fame); unexpected heroism from unexpected sources; virtue sitting alongside villainy (sometimes in the same character); a straightforward look at issues of poverty, ignorance, and injustice; and extremely peculiar and quirky situations.
A street boy called Dodger rescues a girl on impulse and finds himself thrown into the middle of an international incident, suddenly hobnobbing with such personages as Charles Dickens, Disraeli, and Sir Robert Peel. Though—like all of Pratchett’s main characters—he is thrust or dragged into his situation without his consent, he also—like all of Pratchett’s main characters—is sneaky, wily, and intelligent and turns the tables on good guys and bad guys alike, along the way inspiring a good half dozen of Dickens’s books and characters and learning new truths about himself and the world.
Like all of Pratchett’s books, Dodger is a jolly good and hilarious read (though, to give fair warning, extremely bawdy in some places); like many of Dickens’s books, it is a story that breaks stereotypes, the story of a nobody, a person of no fortune and no consequence who reveals heroism and virtue transcending his circumstances. It’s no Dickens, but it’s definitely a Pratchett.