Book Title: Going Postal
Author: Terry Pratchett
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Moist von Lipwig is a “people skills” person (conman). He suffers the indignity of being hung – the hangman is skilful, and he is only hung to the extent required by Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh- Morpork. Vetinari requires someone resourceful and, more importantly, expendable, as the new postmaster for the Post Office.
The Ankh-Morpork Post Office has fallen on hard times. Undelivered mail forms drift ten feet deep, preserved by a crust of pigeon guano. The last four postmasters have met horrible deaths. There are only two members left on the staff. Technology has overtaken them, and everyone is using the Clacks (semaphore). Moist’s mission, and he has no choice but to accept it, is to revive the Post Office.
The Clacks was started by a lot of techno-freaks with no head for finance. It has been taken over by corporate raiders, led by the most piratical raider of them all. Equipment is being run down. High finance is taking place. Vetinari feels that they need to be put in their place. He has hopes that Moist will do it.
It took me quite a while to get involved. I was enjoying the satiric portraits and absurdities, but not engaged. It was not until Moist began to work for the Post Office and the people, and not just to get himself out in one piece, that I began to care about the story. The romantic subplot (not usually one of Pratchett’s strengths) kicks in as well, and things are moving very well when you realise there are only 50 pages to go. The resolution seems sudden, but not too forced.
Pratchett’s strength is the Discworld, and the satiric resonances with our own society. Many of the incidental characters have long histories, which allows him to present them, even briefly, as developed characters. Ankh-Morpork is a living, breathing city. What we get in this novel (as in the others) is a natural extension of the history of Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld.
In this structure, there are two main risks: you don’t care about the characters, and the plot can get lost in presenting the society. Pratchett’s books are prone to both (except when the characters are overwhelming, such as the witches of Lancre). Here, I think it is the reason it took me so long to really care about what was happening in the novel..
Pratchett may be catalogued as a fantasy writer, but he is really part of the English comedy tradition - the Goons, Monty Python, The Hitch-Hikers Guide. If you have enjoyed those, you will probably enjoy Going Postal. Like all great comedians, he is dealing with deep philosophical and social issues – twisting the logic to give us pleasure.
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