Hardback: 378 pages
Publication Date: 13/10/2011
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the publication of a new Terry Pratchett novel is a time for rejoicing [certainly in my universe it is, so there!]. So it is fair to say that I have been eagerly anticipating the publication of his fiftieth novel [and thirty-ninth book in his seminal Discworld series], Snuff, for a long time now. And it was well worth the wait.
I am undoubtedly biased when it comes to Terry Pratchett and his Discworld oeuvre [having first become addicted to them when I was barely into my teenage years, and now read well over forty of his novels]. But, conversely, this also makes me hyper critical, because I expect – and demand – so much from reading Pratchett’s work. And Snuff more than held up under my scrutiny, and is filled with all of the elements that have become the hallmarks of his Discworld novels – clever wordplay, ingenious worldplay, razor-sharp banter and a brilliantly realised, sprawling cast of characters.
But one character stands out [although not in terms of height!]. For this is a full-on Sam Vimes novel [in recent books in the series he has made only the occasional brief cameo – so it is a relief to see him again]. The book begins as he is ousted from his office – and from being Commander of Ankh-Morpork’s Watch. Luckily it is just for two weeks, as he has been ‘cajoled’ into taking a holiday by his inimitable wife, Lady Sybil.
There then follow some hilariously funny scenes as Vimes – an eternal city boy – struggles with the bucolic pursuits of the countryside. He visits the local pub and has a half of beetroot juice [he’s a former alcoholic]. Then he spends time exploring the country pile that belongs to Sybil’s family [which has the brilliant name of Crundell’s!]. He even accompanies Sybil to take high tea and talk about bonnets with Sybil’s friend and her five daughters – a hilarious scene in which Pratchett subverts the conventions of an Austen novel as Vimes doles out advice to the women on how to find husbands and get jobs [whilst one of the sisters, Jane, who aspires to be an author, quietly takes notes!!].
But the country life is all a bit too sedate for him, even if the locals – yokels and aristocracy alike – all seem a bit shifty every time someone mentions goblins [which happens quite a lot – the local pub is called The Goblin’s head and there’s…well, a goblin’s head nailed to the wall above the bar]. Until, that is, a body turns up – giving Vimes the chance to return to the role that he feels most comfortable with, being a copper. It leads Vimes to a vast and far-reaching conspiracy, one that allows Pratchett to link the demonization of goblins to the crime of human slavery.
When written down so bluntly I am sure that some people will wonder how a comic fantasy novel could try to deal with such an evocative topic. But that would be to miss the point of many of Pratchett’s novels. For, beneath the entertainment and the humour there has always been a moralistic slant to the Discworld series – so Feet of Clay dealt with the issue of cheap human labour through the form of the golems. And Vimes himself has always been an advocate for equality and integration [he does, after all, employ an Igor and a werewolf in the Watch!].
And in Snuff the links between the goblins and slavery are not made lightly and are treated with the gravity that you would expect from Pratchett. In doing so, he adds another layer of meaning to the text. And it is this that makes Pratchett’s Discworld novels so special. You can read them purely for entertainment and laughs, but they are also nuanced and often scathing moral and satirical attacks on the evils and problems of the contemporary world – and Snuff is another perfect example of this.