Friday, November 23, 2012


Terry Pratchett's new novel is absolutely filthy, through and through. But then, what would you expect from a book set in a London sewer in the nineteenth century? There is enough brown water, slime and floating "richards"to keep a fourteen year-old boy completely entertained. There are, as you might expect,  a few public health lessons along the way.

The novel has received a starred review in Horn Book, and according to the review on Goodreads, Pratchett "combines high comedy with deep wisdom" and tells the story of "one remarkable boy's rise in a complex and fascinating world." From the perspective of a writer, between the contrasts of extremes, above/below, rich/poor, sewers/wealthy mansions, illiterate/literate lies the humor in this story, and the deeper truths. The book also points out how the western world has come a long way in terms of public health.

But first, who is Dodger?

Dodger is the name of the 17 year-old orphan protagonist who grew up as a "tosher" in the sewer. Toshers make their living collecting coins and lost jewelry from sewer gratings below London.  Luckily, Dodger was taken in by Solomon, an elderly, kind, and wise Jew. Dodger is slick and skilled at "dodging" every sort of danger, even when he goes to the barber and encounters the murderer Sweeney Todd. The twists and turns of the plot and Pratchett's storytelling kept me turning the pages. The London slang is challenging and funny.

It's not surprising that Dodger and the reader receive a few life lessons. For instance, readers learn a thing or two about health and longevity from wise old Solomon. This occurs after Dodger witnesses the sad death, down in the sewer, of his fellow tosher and friend, Grandad, at the age of thirty-three.

Solomon, points out that he himself is fifty-four, and:

 . . . thankfully in good health. You were lucky to meet me, Dodger . . . You know about keeping clean and about putting money by. We boil water before we drink it, and I'm pleased to say I've . . . made you aware if the possibility of cleaning your teeth, which is why . . . my dear, you still have some. . . Toshers die young; what else can you expect if you spend half your life messing about in a mess? . . . Remember fondly your friend Grandad, and learn what lessons you can from his life and death."

If Grandad could have escaped the "mess" now and again to clean up, drink clean water, and even save little money for a rainy day, he might, perhaps, have lived a few years longer.

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