Friday, 20 January 2012
"Snuff," by Terry Pratchett
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
One thing I like to try and do at the start of a review is declare any bias that I might have. I, therefore, have to admit that I am long-standing fan of Terry Pratchett's writing. I am always impatient to get his books, so I bought this one as soon as it came out and then, in a feat of willpower (not something with which I am normally well-endowed), I decided to save the pleasure of reading it for my Christmas holiday.
In "Snuff," Commander Vimes of the City Watch reluctantly goes on a compulsory holiday with his wife, Lady Sybil, and their young son. They go to his wife's ancestral home in the country, where the egalitarian Vimes is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of being master of a house full of servants. He misses the reek of Ankh Morpork, but soon comes to realise that something in the country smells bad - and not just because his son has become obsessed with poo.
If I'm honest, it was possibly easier for me to delay starting this book because I knew it was a Sam Vimes book; he is a character that I have liked in previous books, but not loved. If it had been a book that featured the witches, the wizards, or Death (some of my favourite Discworld denizens) my impatience to start the book might have been insurmountable. However, I loved Sam Vimes in this novel and I now feel like I should re-read earlier books and re-evaluate my feelings for him. For me, the strength of this book was the warmth and humour in the relationship between Sam and his wife, Lady Sybil. Lady Sybil is a great character - I was going to write a great female character, but that would be like giving the Orange Prize when you could be giving the Booker - and I finished the book thinking that I would want to be like her: she is strong, passionately principled (like her husband), compassionate, a great mother to young Sam and a warm human being. Physically I'd need to gain some weight, but I seem to be naturally heading in that direction anyway.
I have dug out my copy of "Guards, Guards." as I decided that I would now like to go back and read the novel in which Sam and Sybil met. In general I feel like I need to give Terry Pratchett's earlier books another chance, as I remember enjoying them less than more recent books. The Discworld is a feat of imaginative creation that has grown in depth and detail as the series has progressed and evolved, and I felt that earlier books were less rich and resonant. It has been a long time since I last read them though, so I am aware that I might be undervaluing them. In addition, some of the best science fiction and fantasy provides an alternative commentary on the world in which we live - and to the best of my recollection his more recent books seem to do this more effectively. His books have become darker satires on modern life, and I prefer that darkness: they are more seriously funny. I was aware in "Snuff" that the moral commentary on prejudice and narrow-mindedness in society is ground that he has trodden well before in his later books, but I forgive him that because he does it so damn well.
I still find his books very funny and I love his inventive use of language, but there is a bitter-sweetness to every new Terry Pratchett novel because I am aware that his illness means that new Terry Pratchett books are in limited supply. The serious illness of any human being is tragic, but I am selfishly aware that I am also sad that each new book takes us closer to the last new book. I just have to hope with every new book that there will be one more....