May 19, 2011
Posted by Simeon
I have spent most of my conscious life being a wild and dedicated Terry Pratchett fan. He was the voice of wise British sarcasm, consistently showing a world that could do with some more irony, from an angle that was just that little bit original. The bent mirror of the Discworld has been a source of artistic inspiration for me, as well as constant fount of good cheer and much, much smartass verbal smugness. I grew up with it, and through it...
...and then I grew out of it. Something happened about six years ago, that I could not define. Suddenly I had no more desire to read Terry's books, and every attempt at doing so failed miserably after a couple of pages. Seemed like I had just read too much of his work, and there was no more I could take.
But that is not asleep which can eternal rise, or some such, and I decided to try again. Turns out Jupiter and Pluto were at a proper alignment, and success was had. Maybe I just needed a break.
Starting as a stand-alone novel, Going Postal is now considered the first book in the Moist von Lipwig subseries - the fifth one in the Discworld (the other four following the misadventures of Rincewind, Death, the Night Watch and the witches of Lancre) - and it deals with said Most von Lipwig, con man and fraud extraordinaire. After his latest alter ego is "almost" hanged, he is given a choice by the patrician of Ankh Morpork, Lord Vetinari - he could take on the job of Royal Postmaster (the Royal Post Office having collapsed under its own ungainly and ill-managed weight some decades ago) or he could die, this time for real. Being alive presenting a lot more possibilities than being dead, Moist accepts the post (haw haw, see what I did there?) and soon wishes he'd chosen the quicker demise.
Now he must deal with a golem parole officer, the crazy ancient descendants of the once proud postal office workers, the evil money-grabbing owners of the Grand Trunk and their clacks towers, as well as his interest for the severe and sarcastic compulsive smoker Adora Belle Dearheart. Also, he must consistently do the impossible, because - as any con man knows - unless you give them a show, you can never get them to give you their money. Oh, and there is a killer in the night.
Going Postal isn't Terry's best novel by far. But then again, I have read his supposed best novels a good ten years ago, so who knows how they'd seem to me now. And as overall quality goes, it is still pretty damn good. It is always fascinating to see how authors we used to love as kids fare in the test of growing up. Well, Pratchett fares well. More than well. Style-wise the novel is absolutely fantastic. There is not a clever word-play that hasn't been thought of, no opportunity for elegance has been missed. The book simply flows, and the reader glides through the pages with such ease and comfort that it's a surprise the cynical effect isn't lost.
But it isn't. The Discworld, having started as a tableau for making fun of heroic fantasy, has seen many transformations, to evolve, finally, in its present state, which is just outside of our own world, with our own problems, sometimes alarmingly close yet always retaining that little bit of mystery, magic, and Things That Lurk At The Edge Of Reality. There has never been an easy way to describe the blend of flavors that is the Discworld (although people constantly do it, to varying degrees of mediocre effect), but one thing is for certain - there is always the cynicism. It is not the rebellious teenage aimlessness of Fight Club, or the bitter vitriol of an old spinster, but the self-aware wisdom of a man who knows the world far too well not to see everything that is inherently wrong with it, but still loves it.
In a way, Going Postal resembles in structure the beginning of the Night Watch books. A failing state position is given to an unlikely candidate, and he turns it upside down creating miracles. Moist is no Vimes though - he is opportunistic, fake, a fraud through and through... only it doesn't really feel that way. Somehow Pratchett has failed to make Moist' bad side believable enough, so his way-too-quick transformation into Someone Who Cares fails to hit the spot. The character is still cool, he just seems too nice for his supposed self-serving worldview. And the lack of believable internal conflict is what, in the end, makes him not terribly interesting.
This (semi-minor) problem aside, Going Postal is immensely enjoyable. True, if you have read any of Pratchett's recent novels, you've more or less read this one as well. But that is the trick to any of his works - you know them sometimes before you have even opened the first page, but you love them all the same. The novel is masterfully written, grips the attention from the very first page, and doesn't let go until the very end. And if when you finish it, you are not entirely sure you got anything new from the reading, well - I personally have gotten nothing new from reading far inferior books.