Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

This is the gazillionth book in the Discworld series, and if you don't know what that is this review is going to sound pretty weird. In brief: many years ago Terry Pratchett dreamed up an alternate world which is flat and carried through space on the back of four gigantic elephants standing on the shell of an even more gigantic turtle. In this world, magic is real, Death truly is a scythe-wielding skeleton in a black robe, and a census would have to include troll, dwarf, vampire, golem, and werewolf--among other creatures--in its "ethnicity" box. Within this structure Pratchett explores our society, myths, and institutions, taking them to wherever they might go in a world where pretty much anything is possible.

Confusingly, my picture of the cover of Making Money shows the British version, while the Amazon link shows the American edition. Yes, this is another import from that little island the other side of the pond, where it has achieved huge fame and been made into a TV series. Being a Brit myself, I often find myself wondering how Americans react to Pratchett's very British humor, which is of the deadpan-hilarious variety. I've never read the American editions, so I can't tell you whether they've been altered in any way - I hate it when American publishers do that, as if you Americans can't get your heads round a slightly different culture. I have a much higher opinion of your brainpower.

But I digress. Making Money is set in Ankh-Morpork, the Discworld's largest, most diverse, and most dangerous city, particularly if you eat the sausages. Our hero is Moist von Lipwig who, having saved the Post Office in Going Postal, is beginning to find his life a little too routine. He is rescued from committing crimes to make things more interesting by Lord Vetinari, the city's Patrician/tyrant, who puts Moist in charge of the moribund Bank. Things then get very interesting, as Moist has to deal with Mr. Fusspot, the Lavish family, strange things happening in the basement, golems, a very dead wizard, and an extremely nasty finger.

Having read my way through the Discworld series over the last twenty or so years, I can pretty much tell where these books are going from about page 5. After the first few books, Pratchett settled on a formula and pretty much stuck to it. And yet I keep reading them. Why is this? Possibly because my husband keeps buying them (he's a huge fan) but also, I think, because there's something irresistible about Pratchett's gentle mockery of all we hold dear. He's never cruel, but he has a talent for dissecting all our pretentions and ambitions and holding them up to us in an "oh dear, look at this" kind of way. And he has these throwaway lines that are just a delight to read.

Terry Pratchett now has Alzheimer's, so we may be seeing the last of the Discworld novels soon. If you've never read any of them and want to start, my suggestion would be to go back to the early days, starting with The Color of Magic. By the time you've read enough books to get to the more formulaic later ones, you'll be so fond of this strange universe that you won't mind.

I've classified Making Money as a beach read because the phoned-in plot keeps it out of the "good" category in my opinion. It's still a pleasant way to pass a few hours, and well worth a look if you're after some light humor to pep up your day.


fairyhedgehog said...

I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan. If you take the genre "fantasy humour" then even his worst books are orders of magnitude better than the competition.

They do tend to be formulaic but I can forgive that for the sake of his characters: the cowardly Rincewind, the three witches, and of course Sam Vines who grows throughout the series. Night Watch in particular is a wonderful book.

Claire Dawn said...

I just read (and loved) Wintersmith. I think I will have to try a few more.