Hundred And One Dalmatians may be proof that film adaptions, particularly by Disney, will become more known than the original. However, it is always worth visiting whatever comes first.

And that’s what I did with Dodie Smith’s Hundred And One Dalmatians – or 101 Dalmatians for short. In this book review, I will discuss this beloved British book, and give a rating.

This Review Does Not Contain Spoilers

Ultimately, Hundred and One Dalmatians is a fantastic work of children’s literature. I’d even go as far to call it underrated. It’s stacked with memorable characters, from Pongo to Cruella De Vil. Because of that, 101 Dalmatians is a treasure. Dodie Smith understands that Cruella De Vil will steal the reader’s attention and ensures that every appearance the villain makes is a delight.

The pups and dogs are all likeable, with some getting more attention than others. However, this works for the best. We have rich characterisation and evolution from Perdita and Misses. There are still mysteries to be had, with a strange cat offering surprises along the way. Because of these creative decisions, Hundred and One Dalmatians can feel like a cosy read. This is due to the artistic grace of Dodie Smith. Although one may not think of animals as having humanity, Smith constructs convincing concepts.

The strongest moments in the novel are when we see the Dalmatians interact with the human cast. Within the book’s first opening pages, Smith entertains the prospect that pets are the actual owners. This moment will bring a smile to anyone who owns a pet, especially a dalmatian. It’s instances like this, traced through the novel’s pages, that are effective.

A slight criticism I have is that some human characters are flat. Cruella De Vil’s husband, despite having an interesting part, is never given the spotlight. This results in the reader failing to react to his fate. Great literature (and that includes children’s books) should cause reactions, no matter how ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ a character is.

101 Dalmatians is entertaining. It can also be read in a single session. However, the language and prose Dodie Smith opts for can be frustrating. For one, it feels that very exciting moments in the story are quickly brushed over. For example, there is a scene after a party that happens quickly. I wish Dodie Smith took the time to flesh out her ideas, because I think they are worth reading. But often, 101 Dalmatians is too fast-paced and allows little time for the reader to process her concepts.

That is understandable. Hundred And One Dalmatians is a children’s novel. Language is an important consideration. And Smith understands what makes a successful children’s book. She develops a sense of wonder that comes second to Peter Pan. She’s also talented at sumptuous descriptions of people and the places they roam.

This offers readers, young and old, to enter a world where everything is wonderful and quirky.  

It’s such a wonderful strength for a book to have. Overall, Hundred And One Dalmatians is mesmerising and has a lot of heart. I will revisit it. No problem giving the novel such a high rating. 

Grade: 82/100

What are your thoughts on Dodie Smith’s classic novel? Comment below!

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