My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As an homage to Terry Pratchett and in the wake of his death, my wife’s book club decided they should read one of the great man’s books. Not their usual cup of warm brown liquid by a long chalk. Over breakfast recently, the current Mrs DCF and I discussed the pros and cons of satirical fantasy fiction from a man who, at the turn of the century, was Britain’s second most-read author after one Ms Rowling, also a fantasy author. The Colour of Magic was chosen and, alas, remained unread by the good ladies of the book club. “We just can’t believe in anything that has wizards and witches. It’s just silly.” was the explanation given.
The same dismissive argument, I suspect, was put forward by the crestfallen Trojan guards who tugged the equine totem left by the Greeks in through the gates of their city. If only they’d taken the trouble to look a little bit deeper inside…
Faced with this declaration of dismissal, I reacted by purchasing the unabridged audiobook of Snuff. I’ve always considered the Discworld books involving the Watch as those with the strongest plots and carrying the most barbed of satirical spears. Snuff does not disappoint and Stephen Briggs’ narration is, as always, done with love and attention and a deep understanding of what is needed. For once, Vimes, an everyman to rival any of literature’s great heroes, is not in Ankh Morpork. Dragged to the country on holiday by his wife Lady Sybil and terrified by the impending boredom, Vimes seeks distraction. He finds it first in the noisome nonsense of privilege that his reluctant status (The Duke of Ankh) bestows and which makes the servants ludicrously subservient, and then in the natural antagonism of the working man towards a ‘nob’. But Vimes’ radar picks up something rotten in his country seat. A dark secret lurks. One a lesser man, lacking the moral fibre running like a tungsten rod through Vimes’ spine, might easily dismiss as country folk merely doing what country folk do far from the eyes of the establishment in the city. Things which might pass for simply culling the vermin. Except here, the vermin beg for mercy and make music. Wonderful, bewitching music.
Ultimately, Pratchett crafts a tale of morals and arrogant entitlement which resonates still with our past and present histories. Snuff is a great book. Laugh out loud as ever, but always bubbling with the warmth and satisfaction that comes from knowing the difference between what is right and what is just. There’s the usual dissection of the human condition, murders, drugs and worse. All delivered with a subversive sleight of hand and a though provoking touch that left me wishing Vimes would run for election here in the UK in a few weeks time. The Watch party. They’d undoubtedly call themselves WEKIP (anywhere). Put an Igor in charge of the NHS–waste not want not–and Nobby Nobbs as chancellor. I can see Colon running Education and Angua as chief whip. Oh yes, Vimes’d sort the buggers out.
Willikins the butler, the dark angel to Vimes’ beacon of light, comes into his own in Snuff and the usual Watch sidekicks have walk on parts. But Snuff is the Vimes’ show. And who would not want a front seat for that.
But this is fantasy, for God’s sake. What author of any note would want to write about such childish, supernatural stuff and what reader could ever consider it ‘serious literature’. Many, many readers don’t attempt Pratchett for that very reason. It’s hardly Shakespeare. Wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole. Not even in their wildest dreams. Not even when they have the time, perhaps on holiday, sitting out on a warm Midsummer’s night say…
As I said to Mrs DCF over our delicious bran flakes, we all have an imagination. It’s an amazing, wonderful gift. Unfortunately, some people leave it unopened underneath the tree from one Christmas to the next. And boy do they lose out if it means missing a brilliant book like Snuff.