Review: Snuff, Terry Pratchett

The wonderful thing about Discworld is that it operates on whatever level you choose to take it on – as a child, it was a funny story about fairy-tale creatures acting strangely.  Having enjoyed Dragonsbane, Discworld was a wonderful next step up.  As an adult, I am not naturally drawn towards the fantasy section of the bookshop but the publication of each new Discworld novel still fills me with glee.  Pratchett’s on-going battle with Alzheimer’s makes me feel quite emotional because it is a disease that recently defeated a very precious family member but I have been heartened by Pratchett’s defiance in the face of his diagnosis.  With Snuff, Pratchett proves yet again that it is possible to write mainstream comedy while also making very prescient points about the issues of our own world.  Stepping back into the world of Sam Vimes was a pleasure as always with Pratchett’s trademark blend of cynicism and idealism keeping the Disc moving forward with its usual spirit and energy.

Snuff took Sam Vimes up to the Ramtops, semi-dragged there by his lovely wife Lady Sybil who believes that he is in need of a holiday.  In many ways this is a genre send-up as it becomes speedily obvious that in the grand tradition of detective fiction, Sam Vimes’ holiday is going to be anything but relaxing.  Along the way he also advises an Austen-like young lady and also meets his young son’s favourite author, Miss Beedle (or as Young Sam calls her, ‘the pooh lady’), a writer whose work focuses on bodily secretions, much to the rapture of her young audience.  Bodily fluids are a major focus of this instalment from the Disc, as signposted by the title.  The word snuff can of course either mean the powder snorted by the aristocracy or it has its more grisly meaning as a slang word for death.  Both forms of the word are in plentiful supply in this novel, which introduces us to the goblin culture.
Samuel Vimes (surely he would have to be
played by Hugh Laurie?)
In Pratchett’s universe goblins practise the religion of ‘Unggue’ which requires them to preserve everything that comes from their body (although the most generally followed form of the faith draws the line at toenail clippings, hair, snot and earwax) and to carry them in beautifully decorated containers.  Goblins spend a lot of time therefore in making pots and carrying them around.
Obvious comparisons can be drawn between this book and Feet of Clay, which brought in golems.  Both initiated a new species which faced various forms of unfair prejudices – in this case, the goblins are seen as less than human and so are utterly expendable.  What is interesting is how far Vimes has developed since his first appearance as the melancholy alcoholic in Guards! Guards way back in 1989.  The original Vimes distrusted any species that wasn’t human but during his last appearance during Thud!, Vimes visited Koom Valley and put an end to years of hatred between trolls and dwarves, with clear nods to issues of sectarianism.  This time, the allegory tends more towards persecution of minorities, with nods to both slavery and genocide.
By plonking Vimes in the middle of the countryside and in a brand new aristocratic milieu, Pratchett once again gives Vimes the chance to tear down a corrupt system.  As always, Pratchett’s villains are rooted in the real world – they are motivated by greed, stupidity and a willingness to disregard those beneath them.  The central mystery was entertaining but as always with Pratchett it is the background detail where the sparks truly fly.  It has been a pleasure over the past few books to see Vimes settle into fatherhood and seeing Young Sam as a scatologically obsessed six year-old was lovely – Pratchett has always drawn his children very vividly.  The only criticism I can really level is at the slightly long-winded sub-plot surrounding the local policeman’s ‘old Mum’ which got a little repetitive.  The action sequence going down the river Treachery was very well-executed however – given how many adventures Commander Vimes, Duke of Ankh has had it is very impressive that they are still as packed with humour and desperation as ever.
It’s been about fifteen years since I first read a Discworld book, I think that what I like best is the continuity in the characters.  Nobby Nobbs is still ‘on the balance of probability, a human’, Vetinari is still nefarious but ultimately well-intentioned and Sam Vimes is as always an unwilling crusader for justice.  I have heard that Pratchett has decreed that his daughter may continue with the series after his death but I am torn about whether this would be a good thing.  Discworld is a bright and intelligent series which whirs with humour – Pratchett is the master of jokes, gags, one-liners and punch-lines that you had not quite seen coming.  I have Raising Steam ready to go on my Kindle and I think for now I will just be grateful that the end has not yet come.
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Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Published by Random House on 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General
Pages: 512
ISBN: 9780552166751

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