Snuff (Discworld #39)
Holy Haleakala (to borrow from the Bad Astronomer)! This story is so much more than I expected it to be: murder, mystery, goblins, trolls, magic, and a whole lot of good old fashioned detectivery. I’m used to the Terry Pratchett of youth fiction, but this Terry Pratchett, is exactly perfect for me. It’s adult in the way that most of us are with tiny flickers of the youth fiction gleaming through the cracks. I won’t call it a romp because it’s so much more than that. In many, very real ways, this book can be held against the world we live in like a magnifying glass. It shows us the seedy underbelly of our world while pulling us quite thoroughly into a world of smoke and darkness. Though it’s not all darkness, the light of music and the need to live and the sparkling laughter of a child obsessed with poo glitters throughout the story, offering hints of redemption for our heroes.
Forced to go on holiday by a well meaning wife, Commander Vimes finds that the country does not agree with him. The sound of birds and bugs and all manner of creatures chirping and buzzing through the night instead of the timely call of the night guard means that sleep must be forced, instead of relaxed into. His son, Young Sam, discovers the curiosity of a naturalist within him and takes to studying all kinds of poo. His wife does what’s customary for a wife in the country. She has teas and dinners. While everyone else is entertaining themselves with the country, Commander Vimes can’t shake the feeling that something is not quite right and as it turns out, he’s all too correct.
Increasingly, I’m beginning to understand that in order for the good guy to be the hero I always want them to be, they must acknowledge the less than good parts of themselves. It’s a key aspect of the hero because on some level it makes them more identifiable. It’s hard to identify with the squeaky clean guy who does everything right every time and has never made a mistake in their lives. The guy who’s a little afraid of himself, however, is easy to understand. We’ve all made mistakes and, I would hope, we all understand that no single person is made up only of light. Even Mother Teresa had doubts about the world she lived in. It’s utterly human and in some ways it comforting. It makes it more realistic to read about this man who doesn’t hesitate to do the right thing when you know that deep down he has self-doubt as much as the next guy. Pratchett has this artfully subtle way of crafting his characters into real people. He doesn’t just present the sunshine parts of his characters. He allows us to peer into the depths, so that when we look at the sum of the parts we see a whole person rather than a character sheet acting woodenly.
Though this is, by far, the darkest Pratchett book I have ever read, I find myself ruminating over the bright spots. Yes, there is a murder, and a truly horrifying one at that, vaguely reminiscent of Jack the Ripper in a stomach turning kind of way, but the whole story is not just murder and blood and guts. The goblins (which are almost never the high point of any story) turn out to be symbolic in an endearingly human way, though I find myself unwilling to completely humanize them. Pratchett presents them to us in a way that makes the goblins endearing in a goblin way. Yes, they make pots in which they store snot and nail clippings and tears, but the pots are startlingly beautiful. The goblins we meet who are making them are artists to the core, going so far as to throw something stunningly breathtaking over their shoulder, allowing it to shatter on the rocks because they could make a better one. Not to mention the soul-rending music they play on the harp.
Commander Vime’s son is just enchanting. His very thorough study of poo from every animal he can get his adorable little hands on is smile inducing. The way he’s so serious about it is just completely perfect. That combined with the way he welcomes new people into his life with complete abandon regardless of what species of person they may be. He’s the kind of kid every parent would be proud to call their own.
I know I’m running long, but there’s one last thing I want to comment on and it’s pervasive through every Pratchett book I’ve ever read: the footnotes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any author use them in the same way before. Pratchett uses the footnotes to make the story more vibrant than it otherwise would be (which in fairness, is already pretty damn vibrant.) They add just a little touch of brevity to the story here and there that is universally welcome. I think my favorite from this book is: “A glint is, in fact, a visual tinkle.”
This story is tingly and spellbinding. It might start off a little slowly, but once it winds up, your nerve endings will not be able to rest until they know how everything turns out in the end.
4 ink bottles.