national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, March 3, 2014


Fascinating, well designed and very amusing look at Victorian London through the eyes of Dodger. (Review by Caroline Smart)

If the title of Terry Pratchett’s latest book, Dodger’s Guide To London swings your mind to Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist which eventually came a movie and a musical as Oliver!, you would be on the right track.

The Artful Dodger, a leader of child gangs under the sharp eye of their mentor, Fagin, played a pivotal role in the story of Oliver Twist and Pratchett has used this character as the “guide” in a fascinating and often very amusing portrayal of Victorian London.

Pratchett is no stranger to fiction as he sold his first story when he was 15. This earned him enough money to buy a second-hand typewriter. From that first humorous fantasy novel, The Carpet People in 1971, he has now logged up 36 books in the Discworld series, four of which are written for children. Literary awards, accolades and best-selling status have become part of his life and he was named an Officer of the British Empire "for services to literature" in 1998. His books have been widely adapted for stage and screen.

Dodger’s Guide To London (with an especial interest in its underbelly …) sounds so genuine and paints the sights, sounds, smells and social structures of London so well that you actually start believing that Dodger (a name for someone who dodges trouble) exists. However, a tiny footnote explains that Dodger is a fictional character as are a number of his associates in the book.

The Random House Group website features the warning: “Includes ’orrible murders, naughty ladies and plenty of geezers!” This is how Dodger talks and in fact, you should read the book with a Cockney accent to place yourself in his world.

Chapters have headings like Aspidistra Land; A Nation of Shopkeepers and Nippers, Scallywags, Urchins and Rascals as well as When Clobber Maketh the Gentleman and Places to Avoid.

Each page produces fascinating historical information, quotations from personalities of the times and Dodger’s inimitable comments.

For instance: pages 44 and 45 take the reader to the alleys and courts of the East End where pickpockets and “tea leaves” (thieves) were constantly on the lookout for unwary passers-by. A glossary gives the names of other criminals such as Duffers and Horse Chanters (who sold poor goods or horses and cheated the buyer); Bouncers and Beaters (who cheated by laying bets the punter could never win); Bug Hunters (who looked for drunks to rob), and Thumble Screwers (who stole watches). Historical information tells of the Great Garrotting Panic of 1862 and there is a replication of a poster selling an anti-garrotte collar.

Paul Kidby’s illustrations add visual charm while the text design is by Lizzy Laczynska and picture research by Liane Payne.

Dodger’s Guide to London is published by Doubleday. Though a small publication, the book’s presentation is worth the price alone – it is an artwork in its own right with a linen weave hardcover and gold writing. The book retails at R217 Product Code: 9780857533241 – Caroline Smart