Doting grandmother and grey nomad who should join Volunteers Anonymous and is greatly in favour of a ten day week. So much to do, so little time.
Published February 18th 2013
What the Dickens
In literary appreciation terms, when does a Child become a Young Adult? Or when does a Young Adult become an Adult? Chronologically I'm approaching my dotage, so am I regressing to my second childhood if I thoroughly enjoyed Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight and now Dodger? I really hope so, because it means I have other delights ahead of me.
A lovely local librarian suggested I read Dodger as a bedtime story to my visiting thirteen-year-old grand daughter and her twelve-year-old cousin. Bad move. Both are country kids with learning difficulties who take speech very literally. Puns are wasted on them, so by the time I translated Chapter One, I gave up and we sang songs instead. My heart goes out to both of them because they will miss out on so much of what literature has to offer. Horse riding and Kasey Chambers would be no substitutes for me.
Young Dodger is a tosher, that is, one who scours the sewers to make a living in Dickensian times rather than sweep chimneys. Spell-check rejects this word. I wonder if we could bring it back into modern usage to describe those who scour the beaches with metal detectors? Pratchett says he wrote this book as a history-teaching tool as well as for entertainment, and I learned a lot about those times. In the Afterword (let me know the correct term, please) he recommends some more serious reading about the plight of the poor in those days.
On a dark and stormy night, a young woman is being assaulted and Dodger steps in to save the day. This heroic action results in a series of adventures in which he is aided and abetted by his landlord and mentor, Solomon Cohen, definitely not a Fagan look-alike, and Mr Charlie Dickens, a journalist of some note. Other well known historical figures appear along the way, and one wonders how many Young Adults would appreciate the connections, but this Older Adult certainly did. If you are recommending this book to young adults who may be suffering from modern education's disregard for history, suggest they search Wikipedia for Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Mayhew, Robert Peel, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Victoria and Albert, and that biblical character, Onan – from the sublime to the ridiculous one might say.
During his adventures, as he attempts to save "Simplicity" from being returned to her weak husband and his unnamed country, Dodger uses all the street smarts he has acquired since his time as a very young child in a foundling home. All of his suspect activities are ignored by the powers that be in their own interests, unless, of course, he finds it difficult to overcome his natural pick pocketing instincts and skills. He is eventually rewarded with a casual government position that makes good use of his cat burglar skills.
Pratchett's usual satiric barb this time is aimed at international politics, and how the individual is often at risk of being sacrificed for the good of the whole population, or at least, the politician's. Ministerial leather has a great allure. He also targets the attitude of the higher classes to those most in need. Dodger is Pygmalion on steroids.