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Friday, July 6, 2012

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight
by Terry Pratchett

After Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith, we meet Tiffany Aching yet again as a 16 year old practicing witch, doing the needful for the needy, nothing glamorous, nothing fanciful, just back-breaking work that touches people's lives in a way that only witches care to do. She is the hag o' the hills. Chalk's very own witch.

But then, witches are suddenly becoming unpopular. Not that they were popular to begin with - they were ignored and perhaps feared, but they were duly acknowledged and accepted, they were respected. Not anymore. A whisper, a thought, a feeling rears up and the witches are condemned and scorned, hated and hunted.


Traditionally witches wore black. Tiffany preferred green. They also wore pointy hats. Tiffany was going to make her own hat. The title refers to something Tiffany says in A Hat Full of Sky, ""When I'm old I shall wear midnight, she'd decided. But for now she'd had enough of darkness." 


I was terribly torn as I read the book - none of the usual buoyant humor and witty social commentary that I've come to love Pratchett for. This book is dark with a rather meandering story arc, with some unappealing and one-dimensional characters. 


The brilliance of Pratchett's writing, his ability to string the words into a perfectly fabricated sentence that delivers the punch while being side-splitting-ly funny and instructive, is what I treasure more than just the plot and the characters and the clever narration. 


I Shall Wear Midnight is sadly not one of those books that I shall treasure for the sheer joy of reading. And it breaks my heart to admit it, because, clearly, Pratchett is losing his battle with early-onset Alzheimer's and the world is losing a genius. 


But then Pratchett's worst is still better than others' best. And this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. Pratchett's keen observation and understanding of human workings comes through in piercing depth.


It was painful to start the book reading in detail about domestic violence and child abuse and murder and the ferocity of the lynch-mob and the poison of rumors and hatred. 


The characters were difficult to empathize or identify with. The Pettys, Letitia, the Duchess, Derek, even the eyeless villain, Cunning Man, were all rather distasteful, no redeeming features. Unfortunately, even my favorite Feegles suffer from this treatment - the impish, fiercely loyal, funny and riotous Feegles turn rather insufferable at times in this narration. 


The Watch meets Mistress Weatherwax meets Tiffany Aching story has so many possibilities. But, this book did not explore or present much in terms of appreciating the combination.


Having gotten that out of my chest, I must add that there are layers of subtle commentaries on relationships and machinations of the world that are quite thought-provoking. While Tiffany's relationship with Roland ("we're good friends") is much talked about in Chalk, that romantic aspect is incidental to the story, yet masterfully explored. What do people expect of their witch?

Tiffany is not a normal teenager. But then, which teenager is really normal? Which teenager, witch or otherwise, doesn't wonder, Will anyone understand me? Will they know what I go through? Will they always treat me like an outsider? Will they not realize I am human?

I was able to finish this book in a day, thanks to July 4th holiday, but the book was not an easy read.

All's well that ends well. How Tiffany beats Cunning Man seems rather hastily stitched together, just to get it out of the way and done with. Tiffany advocates for social progress with a new school and maybe a medic for the village and so on, very noble, very thoughtful... and the new Baron, her good friend Roland, does indulge her wishes very kindly.


[image source: terrypratchett.co.uk]

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