Hi folks! I’m back again with another of my book reviews. Last time I was discussing Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road… and now it’s time for something completely different. As promised, I picked up Sir Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, a book from his Discworld series which stands alone.
Going Postal's main character is Moist van Lipwig, a con artist given the “option” of turning over a new leaf and breathing life back in Ankh-Morpork’s postal service, which means we start the book with his “execution”, and it takes a while to get round to the post office part. Once it does, the results are a little dismaying for those of us hooked on sending postcards: mail hasn’t been delivered for years, and mostly lies around in heaps in the building, threatening avalanches and blocking off rooms. Moist clearly has his work cut out for him.
As with most of Pratchett’s work, Going Postal is full of humour: that kind of humour that hits the nail on the head. Take this quote about librarians:
People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.”
Having worked in a community library for a while, I can tell you that you really don’t go long before you get asked questions like that!
I never really got into the Discworld books before I read Going Postal, but it turned out that what everyone kept telling me was true: sometimes, you just have to find the right book to start with. For me, that was this book, with Moist and the golems and the gargantuan task of not only getting the post back up and running, but also fulfilling some prophecies, avoiding assassination, keeping Lord Vetinari happy, and winning some pretty epic bets. The postal service is at the heart of Going Postal, as you’d expect, and Pratchett’s very conscious of how important those connections between people are, even amidst his humour.
I have to admit that some of the scenes got a little too into the slapstick end of humour for me: there’s an initiation for Moist as a proper postman, once he’s persuaded people to come back and start posting letters, and it relies on things like Moist falling over random items (because postmen end up falling over things in the line of duty, like rollerskates left lying around). It’s a bit heavy-handed at times… but there’s a lot of the intelligent humour that comes from playing with words or saying things which are true in a funny way, too. Moist is a scoundrel, but he grows on you—I found myself really wanting to know how Moist would figure things out and get the mail delivered.
Overall, I’m glad I decided to read this! I’m pretty sure I’ll read Making Money (another Discworld book featuring Moist) in the near future.
That said, my next review for this blog will be a review of the English translation of Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth (translated by Charlotte Barslund). As ever, I’d love to hear more suggestions for books I should read. I’ve recently picked up Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine and its sequels, so I’ll be reviewing them soon… but after that, I’d particularly like to read some non-fiction about mail/postal services/postcards. I have a few ideas, but it’d be great to hear yours as well—let me know via the comments to this post, send me a message, or drop a note in the forum thread if anything comes to mind!