Wednesday, 2 December 2009

In the gloom, there's always Pratchett. For now

Late autumn in England. The days are grey, the nights are long, and the temperature is falling as steadily as the rain. We need any spark of brightness we can get.

That’s why it’s such a joy that this is Pratchett time. Around now, he comes out with his yearly novel. Sadly, and this makes the pleasure, each time it’s repeated, all the more precious, it may not go on happening for many more years. Since he was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s, Pratchett has thrown himself with admirable enthusiasm into the campaign to cure the disease, a campaign from which he is unlikely to benefit personally. That means that each new novel has to be enjoyed as though it were the last, because far sooner than we might have hoped, it will be.

This year’s, Unseen Academicals, reverts to the classic Discworld theme after the beguiling digression last year: Nation was about a boy on the cusp of turning into a man who finds himself the sole survivor of his tribe following a tsunami in his South Sea island home, and has to try to rebuild a society with the occasional arrivals from other devastated places.

Unseen Academicals is about football in the Discworld. No previous novel in the series mentioned football at all, but one of the charms of Pratchett’s books is that he refuses to be a slave to tedious constraints such as coherence. ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was right and Pratchet gives a wonderful counter-demonstration of that truth.

The novel is about football, but as Pratchett points out, ‘the thing about football, the really important thing about football, is that it is not just about football’. So the novel, like the game, is about life. As all his novels are.

I fell for it on page 1. It describes the form of democracy adopted by Ankh Morpork, the great metropolis of the Discworld, under the rule of its ultimately benign tyrant Lord Vetinari. ‘Everyone is entitled to vote, unless disqualified by reason of age or not being Lord Vetinari.’

It’s the classic mix from Pratchett, of disabused realism and whimsy. After all, there are plenty of real-life example of rulers who believe in one man, one vote as long as they’re the man and they exercise the vote. But where are we ever going to find a leader with either the ingenuity or the enlightened effectiveness of Vetinari?


Awoogamuffin said...

Cool - could you bring that book with you when you come over?

David Beeson said...

I'm way ahead of you