Shelf-Life

Books, reading & writing


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Discworld: It’s much more important than that

If there is such a thing as World Cup fever I must have genetic immunity, so it’s a rare day that I find myself reading a book about the beautiful game. But then, as all wives and bookish brothers know, football is more than just a game. That is doubly true when the football in question is taking place in Discworld.

This is the second time I’ve been drawn to the terraces by this novel. Like much of Sir Terry’s best work, there is great joy to be found in a return fixture (okay, I’ll stop with the football terms; I can see they’re bringing back uncomfortable memories of PE teachers and laps round the field). When re-reading a Pratchett, now that you don’t have the power of narrativia urging you ever onwards (pleasant though that is), you get to wallow in the word play, dig deep into the subtext, search out new jokes and new satirical pokes at that thing we call civilisation. Like sex, Discworld is often better the second time around.

So, onto the story. Set not this time in the melting pot of Ankh-Morpork, but in it’s equally colourful crab bucket (knowing Ankh-Morpork this is probably because someone stole the melting pot and melted it down for scrap) this Discworld outing begins with the wizards of the Unseen University discovering that their grant funding – and, much more importantly, their snack funding – is under threat. A forgotten condition in the will of an ancient benefactor stipulates that the wizards must play one game of foot-the-ball every hundred years or lose that considerable financial support. Time is almost up and there is a real risk second breakfast will have to be cancelled.

Not ones to take such things lying down – perhaps because their rotund forms might make it difficult to get back up again – the wizards arrange a match against the best (and worst) Ankh-Morpork’s rough and ready street teams have to offer. In amongst the build up to the sporting face-off, Pratchett weaves stories of redemption, of self-discovery, of Shakespearian love, and of one very special candle dribbler, who finds out what it means to mean something.

Like all the best sporting stories, Unseen Academicals is about the people, not the game. It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts. And of those taking part, while Mr Nutt can be said to be the player of the day, it was the matriarch of the Night Kitchen, Glenda Sugarbean, that stole the show for me. At the start of the tale she is trapped by tradition and the perceived expectations of those around her, always trying to be who she thinks she should be, rather than who she really is. Fear of the unknown has caged her spirit, but when that cage is broken and the clunking hammer of convention is banished from its Damoclean position she becomes an unstoppable force, brave enough to give even the Patrician of the city a stern ticking off.

Last time, I wrote about reading the right book at the wrong time. If there is a right time for this book it is when self-doubt creeps over you, when it tries to pull you down and make you feel small. The key to the appeal of football, as Pratchett rightly picks out, is to be part of something bigger, something united. It lifts you up and gives you strength: they aren’t called supporters for nothing. Those who enjoy Sir Terry’s writing draw that same strength from his work.

To be a Discworlder is to be part of a team. It is to belong. On simple numbers alone, you’ll never meet even 1% of that team, but there’s strength in that all the same. I for one will proudly wave those colours for long years to come.

 

From Discworld to Transylvania: next up is Dracula. I’ve actually already finished the book so my next post should be up in two flaps of a bats wings.

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Soul Music: It’s only Rock and Roll and Discworld, but I like it.

Well that’s the first book finished. The challenge is now officially underway. Here is my review of Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music (I’ll try and keep it spoiler free). You will be unsurprised to learn that I like it, rather a lot.

This prime cut of Pratchett takes up back to Discworld (which, to those uninitiated, is a flat, disc-shaped world, balanced on the backs of four gigantic elephants, which in turn stand on the shell of the massive star turtle, A’tuin, as it swims through the infinite void of the universe. I would add that it is a world full of magic, but really the elephants and the space turtle should have given that away). Imp Y Celyn, a young musician from rural Llamedos, travels to the great city of Ankh-Morpork with dreams of becoming a bard. But, after acquiring a strange guitar from a magical music shop, he ends up inventing rock and roll instead.

Never ones to miss out on the latest fad, particularly if there is money to be made, the citizens of Ankh-Morpork quickly embrace the new sound, turning Imp and his bandmates into stars. But fame doesn’t come free. Pursued by the traditionalists from the Musicians Guild, brought under the vulture’s wing of band manager, Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler, and stalked by Death (or his granddaughter at least), Imp soon finds true art requires sacrifice, in more ways than one.

So, as I’ve said above, I really enjoyed this book. Given my twin predilections for music of the big-haired, tight-trousered, stadium-rocking kind, and stories packed with trolls, orcs, ogres, dwarves and the like, this is to be expected. But even accounting for my significant bias, it’s a cracking read. Although the main action centres on Imp and his bandmates, a good range of sub-plots let us enjoy some of Discworld’s best loved characters: the Wizards, the Librarian, Death, and Lord Vetinari, all make welcome appearances.

Considering the amount of ground covered, it would have been easy for the story to feel like it had been stuffed into a pair of leather trousers a couple of sizes too small. Pratchett avoids this by skilfully mixing plot & characters, action & reflection, and jokes & heart, in a way that pushes the story along, without it feeling rushed. And, like any good rock performer, he knows what his audience wants. With more rock-related jokes than a Spinal Tap reunion concert, this is a book that can be reread again and again with the confidence that they’ll always be some new nugget to find.

And it doesn’t half make you want to see his record collection. If Killing yourself to live isn’t in there somewhere I’ll eat my LPs.

How much more Pratchett could it be? None, none more Pratchett.

Next up in the reading pile is Island by Aldous Huxley.