By gosh, it really was freezing last night with temperatures dipping to -3 (that's what my phone seemed to show anyway)! So with the heater barely able to keep up, it really was the best opportunity to ditch all fashion sense and layer up with woollies mostly 'borrowed' from hubby. Two jumpers and two layers of socks later, I am as happy as a bunny all snuggled up in bed with Terry Pratchett's fantastic book 'Dodger'. I'd got into bed so early that I actually managed the entire book in one go and what do I think? Fun with a very capital F.
Now that's a word I haven't used to describe a book for a quite a while now. So, I shall say it again: it was was pure fun and joy interspersed with wit, philosophy and good old fashioned charm. As you may all well know, Dodger is the character in Charles Dickens' novel 'Oliver Twist'. He's the cheeky lad with the tophat who finds Oliver and teaches him (unsuccesfully) the art of the pickpocket. The novel is written true to the Victorian setting and is complete with an appearance from Charles Dickens himself who appears as Mr. Charlie, the journalist with an eye for a good story and the heart of a philanthropist.
In essence this book is about Dodger but it is also about Dickens and the characters he bumps shoulders with in Victorian London and who he was to base several of his novels' characters on. We have Todd Sweeney (aka the Demon Barber) and a conspicuous Jewish jeweller by the name of Solomon who isn't what he seems and is somehow Dodger's guardian offering him a place to live and cooking his meals. He is the closest to the character of Fagin in the novel 'Oliver Twist' by Charles Dickens.
We are first introduced to Dodger doing what he does best: Scouring the filthy sewers of London in search of money and anything that the London streets spit out. And on the night we meet Dodger, "the drains and sewers were overflowing, throwing up- regurgitating, as it were - the debris of muck, slime and filth". At this moment, a woman hurtles herself out of a moving carriage screaming. Dodger who has just appeared literally out of the gutter comes to the rescue and upon doing so meets Mr. Charlie and Mayhew who also come to the assistance of Dodger and the girl Simplicity. The assailants 'take to their heels' and manage to get away.
This is a deceptively easy book to read. On the face of it, the book has a very easy plot to follow that is quite straight forward with a mystery to boot. But on a more serious note, the book also sheds light on the machinations that were taking place in London during that period that were to instigate the beginnings of social reform and the awareness of the British government as to the miserable conditions of the poor thanks to the work of people such as Dickens and Henry Mayhew, among others.
A really good read that you must have a go at yourself. Why? because everyone knows the Dodger and you don't want to be the one left out. Do you now?
Thanks to Twitter I learnt of this book by author Paul Craig. It is only available as an e-book and I am wondering whether we will ever see it in print as it would make a very good Christmas present. (Just forward thinking here!)
Here's the thing: I have for some time been searching for a book I could read with my nine-year-old. Not for lack of choices out there but for lack of what my son would go for these days. He's a peculiar reader and struggles to find something that he won't find boring after a few pages. He's grown out of dragons, has had enough of wizards, and remains too young for vampires. Enter Paul Craig's book 'While You Are Sleeping'.
From the first chapter, this book was onto something. The fact that it offered my son an explanation to why hair is ruffled in the morning and an excuse from now on that he's not to blame for mislaid socks or scattered toys or vanishing consoles was reason to use this book as a bible from now on. Speaking of bible, there are parts of this book that touch on certain theological issues that would make great discussion points for maturer readers. The names of places, the food and the characters are funny, well-chosen and evidence that Paul Craig has put effort in his choices. They are very hard to forget.
In short, the story is about David, a nine-year-old boy who lives with his alcoholic mother, enormously fat step-sister Kim and abusive step-dad. He is locked in his room most of the time, hungry and ignored. He hasn't learnt to read and write and his only friend in the world is his dog Robbie. His father disappeared when David was young and all he believes he has of him is a bracelet he found in the loft of his old home. For some reason whenever David slips the bracelet on, he feels safe and secure.
The Underworld is a strange sort of realm, parallel to ours with trolls, dwarves and talking animals. The underworld is where the chaos makers live. Eric, one of the gang, kidnaps David and brings him to the underworld. He is unaware that by doing so, him and his friends will be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime; An adventure that involves danger, Ultimate Beings and ending up in the worst and most frightening place in the underworld: The Gulag.
This is a very funny book, not without flaws (it needs at times serious editing I must say), but still worth giving a go. Our view (my son's and I) is that the author should have chosen a different accessory to a ring in the story. There is one part in the book where you could imagine them all standing there going "My Precious" if you get my drift. Some parts reminded of other novels struggling to find an independent and different role in this story but really these are things that are quickly overcome when you speed through the pages eagerly wanting to find out how it will all turn out for David. A lovable character that makes you wish he finds the break he has long deserved.
To read more about the Underworlders click HERE