I had a lot of fun reading Terry Pratchett’s Dodger. It wasn’t just that I got to entertain myself looking for Dickens references and jokes, but Dodger is a terrific narrator. Dodger gives him a chance to shine, since I don’t think he got nearly enough time on stage in Oliver Twist. Instead of being a prequel or sequel to that book, Pratchett gives the character a different history. In his version, Dodger is a tosher (a person who combs the sewer system for lost money and valuables), rather than a pickpocket.
The book opens with Dodger rescuing a young woman who is being chased by a pair of toughs. Dodger and his allies, Henry Mayhew and a scribbler named Charlie Dickens, soon work out that the young woman is more than she appears. Dubbed Simplicity, the woman recuperates at the Mayhew house until it turns out that the men who were chasing her were working for a prince from the Germanys–the father of Simplicity’s weak-willed husband. As Dodger works to keep Simplicity safe, he starts to fall in love with her and she with him. It becomes even more important for Dodger to find a way to help Simplicity permanently escape from her in-laws.
Along the way, Dodger shows us more of his world and inspires Charlie Dickens. I kept getting little frissons when someone would use the name of one of Dickens’ novels when they spoke. And, of course, Pratchett is a hilarious writer and can so amazing things to common phrases. For example:
Mister Mayhew…said, “Sol being the gentlemen of Jewish persuasion with whom Charlie tells me you share lodgings?”
“Oh, I don’t think he needed any persuading, sir. I think he was born Jewish.” (82*)
What I really like about the English is that they don’t have theories. No Englishman would ever have said “I think, therefore I am.” Although possibly he might have said, “I think, therefore I am, I think.” (220*)
The whole book is full of witticisms and snortingly funny moments.
The mystery and the plot aren’t that hard to work out, but that’s not really what I go for when reading one of Pratchett’s books. I read it because I knew I would have a good time, which I did!
* From the Kindle edition, with allegedly real page numbers.