Snuff by Terry Pratchett

13 Feb

Usually you expect a review of a book to be from a fairly unbiased standpoint, taking the work pretty much on it’s own merits…..yeah, that might not happen here. See, I love Terry Pratchett books. I think the man is one of the few cases where the word ‘genius’ is not only appropriate, but mandatory, and I will literally argue him to be a modern day equivalent to Shakespeare. His stuff is mind-blowing: every time I read one of his books I see him throwing down ideas and concepts like there was no tomorrow, as if he wanted to pack every single great idea he ever had onto the printed page and there just isn’t enough paper in the world. He can take any subject that interests him and turn it into a sprawling epic, replete with philosophical contemplation, discourse on the nature of life, death and humanity, genuinely wonderful characters who grow and develop over multiple books, and just a shit-ton of puns. Anything that takes his eye – football, cinema, economics, how to make a picture of naked people qualify as ‘art’ (urns. Urns are classy) – will become part of the magnificent creation that is the Discworld series. One of my favourite books of his is about the postal system. I have literally no idea how he’s doing this, how he is spinning these magisterial cocoons of narrative, but it is my heart’s wish that he never stop.

I fear I may be overselling this.

Snuff is the thirty-ninth Discworld based novel overall, and the ninth that deals with recurring characters the City Watch. Commander Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork and all-around badass policeperson, has been strong-armed by his boss and his wife into taking a little time off and going on vacation. So, off he, the wife and son head to the manor in the countryside, where city-born-and-bred Sam takes an immediate dislike to the continuous shrieking chorus that is local wildlife and finds himself almost itching for a crime. And then, of course, he gets one, but one that hardly makes him happy. A female goblin is found murdered, and no-one about the shire seems too broken up about it because goblins don’t count as people, therefore they don’t get the protection of the law. Race and prejudice are issues frequently explored in other Pratchett works: he’s taken in dwarves, trolls, the undead, witches, golems and orcs, and goblins are the ones most of them can agree on as just being downright dirty. The things are so trodden on they’ve long since stopped fighting back, and just let oppression happen, whilst everyone else goes on about how goblins are just small, smelly things that make pots and not much else.

This, of course, turns out to be far from the truth, as Mister Vimes discovers along with the rest of us during the novel. Again, race is one of the big recurring themes in Pratchett’s books: people are people. Even when they’re really small, and smell a bit curious, and have a weird language. You’d think the message would get old, but it’s still one of those things that it never hurts to hammer home: all people, are people.

Race isn’t the only thing going on here: Pratchett also throws in the reflections on the nature of law-enforcing, a few thoughts on authority and nobility, some smuggling, thoughts on how a parent mourns for a child lost, the common tropes of English pastoral novels, and even the works of Jane Austen, or at least her Disc counterpart, who enjoys a thoroughly curious luncheon with Mister Vimes.

Overall in terms of Discworld books, Snuff might not top anyone’s lists. Parts of the plot are similar to stuff that’s already come up in other books, only given a lick of paint and a new name. The villain, by name of Stratford, is a decent enough murderous bastard, but doesn’t quite stick into your mind, like a knife in cold jelly, the way, say, Nightwatch’s Carcer or Hogfather’s Teatime do. One part, however, that I really liked were the segments Sam spent with his family, actually enjoying himself. His son runs around and is generally excited at everything while Sam keeps a watchful, and proud, eye, and Vimes and his wife are always cute together, in the way they have a gentle almost-but-not-quite-a-tiff and then immediately return to happily married. Even the scenes with Vimes taking charge of a boat and discovering a fondness for sailing, at least not when it’s in the middle of a raging maelstrom (that in and of itself a cool moment that deserves reading), are very sweet. For a man who wades through so much shit as a policeman, it’s genuinely nice to read Sam Vimes getting some sunshine and having fun, in the spaces between the plot about murder and slavery.

Not the finest one, maybe, but then “not Terry Pratchett’s finest work” is, in my eyes, fairly similar to saying “not the best episode of The Weekenders, per se” or “a promo by the Rock that was, perhaps, less electrifying than usual.” I’m still not going to complain, because someone is giving me something awesome: just because it is, comparatively speaking, a degree less awesome than some of the things they’ve given me in the past, doesn’t mean it doesn’t stand on it’s merits. For someone who’d never read a Discworld book before, I think I would start them somewhere else (my first one was Soul Music, which remains an absolute favourite to this day). As another addition to the series, though, it can stand alongside its brethren as another testament to this brilliant, brilliant writer.

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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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