DODGER'S GUIDE TO LONDON
by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Several years ago, a friend commented that the reader shouldn’t have to suffer because the author did research. Unfortunately, too many authors take too long to learn that just because they learned an interested fact doesn’t mean it needs to be included in their latest novel. Terry Pratchett is a major enough author that he has managed to successfully figure out how to share his research with his readers without including pointless diversions in his novels. Following the publication of his Dickensian novel Dodger, Pratchett has collated all of his research and published it as an entertaining stand-alone book, Dodger’s Guide to London.
Dodger provides a sort of gazetteer, exploring the people and places that made up the Victorian era and allowing Pratchett to share many of the interesting pieces of trivia he came across in his research for the novel. However, because Dodger’s Guide to London’s entire raison d'être is to present Pratchett’s research, it doesn’t suffer from the effect of bogging down the plot as it might have had Pratchett tried to cram all the information into his novel.
The book spans most of nineteenth century London, which means that while everything it discusses occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria, it does have a tendency to blur the lines between things that happened in the 1840s, the 1860s, and the 1880s, which were all distinct times. This is, perhaps, the biggest disservice the book does, although with a little work, the reader can generally figure out which time period Pratchett is describing.
The layout of the book, modeled after publications from the Victorian period, also means that it isn’t always easy to read, providing a dated look, both in layout and writing style, right down to mock ink blotches on some of the pages. Topics are set apart by various curlicues and line illustrations, much as one would have found in the illustrated papers of the Victorian period, with an occasional map interspersed to give some idea of how a particular area of London was laid out. Similarly period style cartoons add not only to the feel Pratchett is going for, but also impart further information about the era.
One of the strongest points of The Dodger’s Guide to London is that it completely stands on its own. Pratchett knows the Dodger’s voice and personality from writing about him in the novel Dodger, and can use that background to good effect in this guide book. The narrator has a character distinct from Pratchett’s own, which makes the information being presented more interesting than a dry recital of facts would be.
Instead, the reader gets an intriguing look at the Victorian period, allowing them to dig into the background without worrying about it getting in the way of the plot or characterizations of the novel. At the same time, it does bring in Pratchett's sense of humor and the absurd, presenting the information through a lens which makes it more interesting and a wonderful addendum to his novel.
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