Monday, 26 December 2011

Novel Review - Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Lots of nice things have been said about Pratchett's writing: his wit and humour, the wackiness, the power of the Discworld as a satirical tool and the general reflectiveness of his work. One piece of praise that I never really hear, however, yet seems to me as true as any of the others is this:

Hot damn can that man write an action set-piece.

Not that you should expect an action packed book, however: this is perhaps the most meandering Pratchett book I have come across. The plot is unusually woolly; there is both an antagonist and a destination, but neither are as present or as emphasised as you would expect. Whilst his scene construction, sleight of hands left right and centre, are as nuanced and brilliant as ever, this is a very unusual problem to come across in Pratchett's writing. Some of the threads that are introduced are left hanging, once again rather unusually. Nonetheless, it's a coherent plot that is paced well and tied strongly to the characters and themes.

Pratchett is a writer who knows how to write as well as anyone, and his technical skill is fully exposed here. He builds tension, creates a memorable villain very quickly, misdirects and plays an incredibly subtle hand with symbolism. As well as being layered, this novel displays Pratchett's abilities in an area I tend to underestimate him. Stylistically, Snuff is memorable, quotable and sharp - his descriptive powers are equal to many, and the way he laces thematic echoes into his work is really the work of a storyteller still at the height of his prowess. The use of limited perspective is about as good as you'll find anywhere.

Another strength that is ably on display in Snuff is Pratchett's ability to introduce conflicting ideologies into the story without ever really taking a side from the point of narrative. Characters will often contradict each other, and the book will never tell you which to believe - you will have to make up your own mind. This is true of the themes too, with the old class issue being giving a good seeing to. Much of what happens here is Pratchett as usual - if you have read the Watch books, you know what you are in for.

Nonetheless, Snuff is a great read. Sharp, funny prose; intelligent writing; engaging and nuanced characters: there's a lot on offer here, and even if this is a slightly more flawed affair than your average Pratchett book, it's still a remarkably good book even before you consider the author's health. If you are a Discworld fan, read it - if you're new, go read Guards! Guards! and work your way to this book.

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