Oxford, £17.99, 284pp £16.19 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett
Standing up for goblins’ rights
Friday 28 October 2011
The Discworld novels have always been among the most serious of comedies, the most relevant and real of fantasies; they are a neatly formulaic structure which enables Terry Pratchett to make editorial comments on moral, social and political issues from a more or less liberal standpoint. If they have a fault, it is that they are a little too self-consciously a Good Thing.
What they are not is smug; one of the real strengths of this new book, with its dissection of the casual prejudices which enable atrocity, is that it starts at home. Before Sam Vimes, honest cop turned reluctant aristocrat and diplomat, can dash around punishing hate crime and freeing the enslaved, he has to acknowledge his own lazy thinking about goblins. If the utterly marginalised smell, and steal chickens, and have a cultural response to the sadness of a mother who has to eat her newborn child, this says more about what has been done to them, than about what they are. Before Vimes can become a liberator, he has to acknowledge that he has been a bigot.
Pratchett has been rightly praised for comic invention and whimsy; he does not always get enough credit for the psychological comedy of embarrassment which makes us blush with self-recognition at the same moment in which we laugh. The difference between him and his many imitators is that, at his best, there is nothing comfortable about his comedy.
Like the film Hot Fuzz, Snuff takes a tough urban cop and dumps him in the middle of the rural landscape of the cosy crime novel. Vimes takes a holiday at his wife Sybil's country mansion and finding himself among wily peasants and a gentry whose conversation is all about their own entitlement to rule and casual contempt for the poor and other species. Vimes is one of Pratchett's finest creations because his entire life is a constant simmer of indignation carefully controlled; he is the noir detective who tells the truth because his own self-analysis is equally merciless.
If there are weaknesses here, it is partly that the scruffy, scrawny goblins end up somewhat sentimentalised. Vimes learns to respect them by meeting a girl harpist whose work speaks across cultural barriers. In some ways, the best scene of bigotry-busting is one in which a couple of his subordinates are bamboozled by a goblin shamaness who compels respect by utter obnoxiousness. Still, there is something refreshing about a book in which fighting for someone else's rights has to be followed by getting them inscribed in the books of law. Pratchett's comedy is at once hilariously cynical and idealistically practical.
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
Record Store Day 2014: Coming to a UK independent record shop near you - the best exclusives
Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
Misheard song lyrics: Lady Gaga and Ozzy Osbourne's lyrics named hardest to understand
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 Dylan Tombides: West Ham confirm 20-year-old striker has died after battle with cancer
- 2 'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
- 3 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 4 Angus Steakhouse: How does tourist staple continue to thrive in today's gourmet market?
- 5 Cover up! Mother told to show less cleavage during Disneyland family trip: 'Are we supposed to wear turtlenecks our whole lives?'