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Monday, September 10, 2012

Snuff


Snuff
by Terry Pratchett


I admire Terry Pratchett not just for the side-splittingly funny story-telling he consistently offers but also for his thoughtful and deep social observations and commentaries.

While typically billed for Young Adult, I doubt if many of his books (Small Gods, Carpe Jugulum, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, The Truth, Thud!, Thief of Time, to name a few) would be fully appreciated by the tender minds as yet inexperienced and therefore potentially unaware of the significance and overtones of the narration.

As Siddhartha said, Knowledge can be communicated but Wisdom cannot. And sometimes, with age (and experience) comes wisdom, which allows for a greater appreciation of Pratchett's insightful genius.

All right, enough with the expounding, on with the book at hand...

Snuff is a Commander Vimes mystery. That's it in a nutshell, but, that hardly does justice to the 400-odd pages of sheer adventure.

Of the many wonderful characters who grace the Discworld, Commander Vimes grew in stature with the many books, from a lowly copper in the Night Watch to Captain to now the Commander of the bulging Watch, not to mention being His Grace the Duke of Ankh-Morpork.

Snuff addresses the social issue of racial discrimination head-on, albeit in its inimitable parallel world which is no different from the world we live in, except of course for the flatness of the Disc and the elephants carrying it riding on the giant turtle, the Great A'Tuin, and suchlike.

Goblins have never been admired much in literature so far, tending to be depicted as lowly, filthy, scums, probably sharp and cunning, but not the ones you want to acknowledge the existence of, let alone befriend or even associate with.

In Snuff, Pratchett introduces us to goblins in much the same way - rather unappealing to look at, with the strange habit of collecting their bodily fluids in a pot and carrying it around with them at all times. Shunned by 'normal' folks, driven to live in hiding, with a status way below wretched animals in their society, goblins do not elicit much from us but disgust at the beginning.

As the story unfolds, so does Pratchett's propensity for peeling the layers of filters we wear to deny such sights that should morally disturb us.

We end up championing for the goblins, one of whom is inducted into the Watch, and all of whom seem to come across with some innate quality worth recognizing, if not appreciating.

There are several elements to this story which all come together in the end, beautifully as always:
Lady Sybill's impressive influence on His Grace Sir Samuel Vimes' life;
the delicate dance of marriage; the sense of duty that Vimes cannot seem to shut off;
the dynamics of fatherhood (young master Sam Vimes' interest in bowel movements of living creatures might be a tad uncomfortable for some, but, with two young ones myself who get excited finding dog poo during our walks I did catch myself smiling inwardly at the masterly touch);
the complexities of the hierarchical society; the (in)cohesiveness of the Watch at times;
Vimes' brilliant detective work and his ability to think on his feet;
oh, and as the title suggests, there is 'snuff' involved, of the tobacco kind that is entangled in a smuggling racket...

Plot thickens, as they say, and events concatenate to a very satisfying climax.

One of the more serious and dark books of Pratchett, Snuff is probably not for the early teenager. It is a fast-paced read which does tend to meander at times.

While it might seem like a simple murder mystery with a few intertwined criminal threads, Snuff is much more than just that.

[An interview with Terry Pratchett by Neil Gaiman at Amazon.com]

[image source: terrypratchett.co.uk]

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