Sunday 14 February 2010
Unseen Academicals and Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett
I needn't have worried about this book, however. You don't need to be in on the joke or have football expertise to appreciate Pratchett's commentary, although perhaps it helps if you are aware of the football culture in England. Pratchett cleverly wove Romeo and Juliet into the context of professional football context, with Romeo (or Trev Likely) as a reluctant footballer, son of a footballing legend and Juliet as beautiful-but-fick WAG (an acronym I personally hate in the singular but struggled to construct the sentence in a way to make it work as it should be used, in plural) who goes into modelling. I was surprised to find myself warming to Juliet and Trev. I live in a culture where footballers and their wives/girlfriends are at once idolised and savaged, that it was refreshing to find them shown as, if there is such a thing, well-rounded stereotypes.
Being a bit of a Vetinari fangirl, I was pleased to see plenty of Ankh-Morpork's Tyrant, pulling the strings of everything that went on in the novel, as he does so well. It was also good to see Glenda, head of the Night Kitchen at the Unseen University, standing up to him, and barging into the Oblong Office without so much as an invitation. (But she had a pie.)
In Unseen Academicals Pratchett reveals hitherto unrecognised (by me, at least, to this extent) powers in touching not only the funny-bone but the heart. This is thanks to the character of Nutt. Nutt is (possibly) a goblin, from Uberwald, very polite (if stilted and not always quite sure of the right things to say) seeking to earn "worth." Someone who begins as a rather comic character develops into something deeper. His inner battles are heart-rending and, again, evoke sympathy for a character you wouldn't expect.
But the more powerful parts of the book, for me, came in the back stories of some of the soldiers in the Regiment, of which we are given just enough information to make it feel a lot darker than Pratchett's usual style. In Doctor Who, the most shocking and powerful stories are the ones where the aliens are incidental and that the humans are the monsters. Some of the soldiers are running to find something, or someone, while others are running away. And it is not from vampires, or assassins, or such villains that they are running, but the Working School, a place of horror that is darker than the usual monsters of fantasy due to its containing none. The characters are eccentric and amusing, but they are damaged, damaged by other human beings, and that is what remains after the book is finished and the covers are closed.