Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Several years ago, when I was interviewing for a generalist literature professor position, one of the members of the hiring committee asked me whom I thought was the greatest living writer. There was a right answer, it turned out, and that answer was Terry Pratchett. And, from what I see of the web activity on him, there are at least a few others who thought so as well.

Setting aside people like Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Lethem, and Toni Morrison, Pratchett isn’t (or, sad to say wasn’t) even among the best of the fantasy writers of our era. On the evidence of this, my first Pratchett, he’s simply not in the same league as Susanna Clark, Erin Morgenstern, or J.K. Rowling. He’s not even at the top of the narrower British, Monty-Python-inspired, fantasy-parody genre, where Douglas Adams is clearly better, and Neil Gaiman and Martin Miller (Martin Scott) are at least as good.

With all that as prologue, though, there’s no question this is a lot of fun. I seldom went long between laughs, and I did find myself enjoying the twists of the story as they underscored the stereotypes of the genre and then betrayed them. I admire the way Pratchett (here at least) goes against – and even mocks -- the convention of the fantasy hero, not just mocking that character but demonstrating there’s an entire world around him. Pratchett puts that hero in his place narratively, making him a relatively minor character, as well as comically.

Even as I enjoyed the book, though, I found myself thinking of Dr. Who. I have enjoyed that show the several times I’ve seen an episode or two, but I’ve never dived into it for the full experience. I suspect that Pratchett’s Discworld is the same way. It’s pretty good – a clever guy breaking all sorts of rules and having all sorts of fun – but it gets all the more pleasurable as one story accretes atop another. You can enjoy a Dr. Who episode, but I understand that you need to see a full story arc, then a full run of a particular Doctor, and then a healthy dose of older episodes in order to get the full effect.

The problem with that, as with Discworld, is that you have to take such a promise on faith. You have to commit to an awful lot in order to get the best of any part of it. I’m afraid I don’t see myself reading 39 more Discworld novels any time soon, even though I suspect I would enjoy this one all the more in retrospect.

So, bottom line, I didn’t take that job, and I am convinced Pratchett was not the greatest living writer of the early 2000s. He is fun, though, a slapstick mind with enough inventiveness to pull off amusing and potentially addicting stuff. I may indeed give the next one of these a shot, but Douglas Adams is safe on his perch, as, of course, is Philip Roth.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment