Snuff by Terry Pratchett
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Release Date:||October 11, 2011|
Snuff is Terry Pratchett’s 39th Discworld novel, almost thirty years after writing his first. The series has been a huge success, with worldwide translations, audiobooks, conventions and ceramic figurines worthy of the greatest mantelpieces. It’s also my first dip into the Pratchett water for some time.
I’ve never been a huge fan, finding the early Discworld novels more wry-smile inducing that side-splittingly funny. A couple of years ago, I read Going Postal; ten years on from my last reading of him, I found that Pratchett had matured into a charmingly witty (which some would argue he always has been) and, more importantly for me, a warm and deeper writer. Characters were vividly drawn and, above all, sympathetic while still being amusing; a far cry from the likes of the ‘hilarious’ old barbarian in his early novels.
Hopefully I’m not upsetting Pratchett fans – for there are many – my aim here is merely to give some background into my original opinion of the writer, to show what he’s been up against. Now that’s done, on to the book itself.
Snuff sees Samuel Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, on holiday in the countryside. He’s a policeman, this is a story, so it’s not long before there’s a murder to investigate, a cover-up to expose, and a case to solve. Vimes is no Poirot or Columbo, though; he’s an honest copper out of his depth, sometimes victim of circumstance, and a man who has serious doubts about himself, like we all do at times. It’s this that makes Vimes, central character of this story, utterly believable and beguiling. A solid tale needs a solid hero and Vimes is just that, one of Pratchett’s recurring characters who has advanced with the progression of the Discworld novels. Nothing is static here, even within Discworld itself there have been changes, introductions of simple technology to advance rather than intrude on the fantasy element of the series.
The plot’s a good one, with enough twists and turns to make it entertaining. There’s a set-piece towards the end that’s worthy of any blockbuster movie (although a certain Scorcese film leaps to mind), filled with thrilling action and genuine jeopardy. There’s some good humour in there too, and I have to admit I found myself chuckling several times as I read. I’m sure there are a multitude of in-jokes, too, but the rest or Pratchett’s novels don’t have to be read in order to appreciate the charm of Snuff. While there’s nothing revolutionary about the story that makes it something special, it’s a canny focus with which to introduce the themes of the novel. And there are plenty: social class, relationships, slavery, evil going unpunished while good people do nothing.
Yet none of these themes are shoehorned into the book, they’re deftly woven into the tale with subtlety and talent, like the painting of an old master. I’m gushing, I know; I never expected to be, but such is the nature of Snuff. What I did expect was a Downton Abbey or Jane Austen spoof, and I was delighted to be proved wrong. Sure, those elements exist to a certain extent – they’re bound to, given Snuff’s location – but they’re in the background, part of the scenery if you will, and these jokes come across as entirely natural.
What impresses me most about this novel is how vivid the characters are, not just in themselves, but in their interaction with others. In particular, the relationship between Vimes and his wife is both amusing and honest, striking a realistic and believable chord. Yet, even this is surpassed by Pratchett’s inclusion of Goblins, transforming them from sword and arrow fodder to living individuals. Let’s face it, anyone who’s played a fantasy role-playing game will have had to battle a goblin horde at some point, slaying massive numbers of these petty minions before encountering the big bad monster. Goblins are nothing much more than little green men who block the path to something really interesting, right?
Not to Pratchett. In his hands, the Goblins are transformed from a seething mass into a group of individuals; they have names, talents, relationships, friends and families. On finding this to be the case, the characters’ perceptions and prejudices are challenged, and the readers’ along with them. It’s this that gives Snuff its true depth, when the reader finds themselves wondering what they would do in a character’s shoes – would we act, or turn a blind eye?
Snuff is a light-hearted book, and can be read as such, yet it carries a serious underlying message. Subtly thought-provoking, witty, sad and ultimately enjoyable, it’s a book by an author at the top of his game, one that has made me reconsider the works of Terry Pratchett, and given me the desire to read more. Discworld, here I come! (Now, where can I get some Luggage?)