You might have noticed that any mention of books and reading have lately been described in a fairly negative light here at Oh Waily Waily.
This is, in my self-analysis, a result of trying to produce a book review every week, then every fortnight, then four every other month for the past two years. Work over at t’other Bookish Blog has ceased and from my perspective will remain so until this negativity that has developed towards reading dissipates.
By way of healing, I decided to try to find something that would give me pleasure to read. I turned to my perennial favourite author, Terry Pratchett. So caught up with t’other blog, that this book had languished on my shelves for the best part of two years, unread. It is unheard of for me to buy a TP and have it sit on the shelf – usually the worst I have to do is wait for Mr Oh Waily to whip through it first. It is a true testament to how bad things had become that I felt no joy in taking this off the shelf, no anticipation of enjoyment and basically I ‘forced’ myself to read it for pleasure. Oxymoron? Yes it was.
So, I cracked open my first Pratchett in a few years. While I was expecting this to be another in the Discworld series, I was wrong, this novel is set in Victorian England. Dodger is definitely inspired by Mr Dickens (or Charlie as he here) and his Artful one. Dodger is a tosher, eventually the King of the Toshers, who is known by everyone. He is also a geezer, one smart lad and eventually a reluctant hero.
You get all the big names of Victorian England turning up here, Sir Robert Peel, Charles Dickens, Lady Angela Burdett-Coutts, Henry Mayhew and a cameo by Joseph Bazalgette. Add in another famous Victorian, albeit a fictional one, in Sweeney Todd and you pretty much have the full line-up across the social spectrum, even if timelines have had to be compromised to do it. Ah well, it is a novel after all.
Dodger rescues a young woman who is attempting to escape from a carriage and a couple of ruffians. They are beating on her when he pops up out of the sewers in order to intervene. He soon sorts them out before they retreat. In the process he meets Mr Dickens and Mr Mayhew who take over with providing assistance for the girl, but Dodger is not to be fobbed off and wishes to know that they are trustworthy. He insists on knowing that this pretty, blonde girl will be in the best of care. She stays with the Mayhews and becomes known as Simplicity, although she and her situation are anything but simple as we find out when the story continues to unfold.
We also meet Solomon Cohen, and his dog Onan. Dodger lodges with them and considers Sol to be a great friend. They meet after a similar deed by Dodger where he intervened in a beating that was being given to the older man.
Sol’s wisdom, connections and worldliness become invaluable to the younger man throughout the latter part of the story as Dodger finds himself mixing with all manner of the Victorian social strata.
It is a very easy read, as all of Pratchett’s books are. It is a delightful way to look into the past, and a very murky and less than salubrious past it was in Victorian London. Despite the darkness of the setting, it is always alleviated by the underlying sense of humour that is inherent in nearly all of Pratchett’s writings. The story winds along to a satisfactory conclusion, and in some respects reminds me of Kim – minus the setting of the sub-continent.
I would recommend it to folk who know and like Dickens. I’d love to hear if it appeals or not.
As for me, it has gently nudged me back into the land of the book lover. A few more books like this and I may start to feel like my old self again.