I Shall Read Midnight
(Sorry, couldn’t help myself with that post title.)
Is it heretical of me to say that I didn’t like this as much as other Pratchett novels? I feel bad for saying it. It’s certainly not that I disliked it – far from it – but I didn’t feel like it flowed as well as some of the other recent stories have.
Overall, I have loved the Tiffany Aching books a great deal. I love that we have followed a character from the age of eight or so, as she discovers that she has to do something that will set her apart from everyone else, and then goes through with it anyway. I love that that character is a girl. I love the way Pratchett has played with and inverted all sorts of tiresome notions from fairy stories and society more generally in writing these stories. I also love that Tiffany is a witch, because I adore the very concept of Headology.
Plus, Nac Mac Feegles for the win.
My issue is not with Tiffany. She continues to be a largely awesome character, who while dealing with adolescence can see the light at the end of that particular tunnel; who has mostly come to grips with being a witch, the burdens of that job and the expectations and responsibilities, while still being human enough to get intensely irritated by them sometimes. Many of the other characters were also brilliant – HELLO Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, making a comeback appearance! And a new witch, Mrs Proust, who is… all sorts of interesting. I would like to see her interacting with Vimes and the Guard. Or possibly Sybil. Plus the wonderful Preston, who is a totally ridiculous guard.
Also, Nac Mac Feegles. And more of Jeannie, the kelda, whom I love to bits. I love her attitude towards the Feegles… possibly because it reminds me of the way I would like to think that I deal with my students, it occurs to me.
Part of my trouble with this story is with the plot; not the details, but in some of the ways it gets places. There’s a feeling of disconnect between some sections, of moving too abruptly from one idea or action-scene to the next, which made me less than comfortable. I liked the vibe overall, though, of dealing with gigantic issues from history (quite literally) at the same time as dealing with very personal issues. The combination of “all witches are eeevil” with “how will I live with being a witch?” made a lot of sense, and the two complemented each other nicely.
My other minor issue was a feeling of repetition. Now I know, and usually enjoy, Pratchett’s habit of repetition – of phrases turning up again and again, of repeating information with slight changes in phrasing or emphasis. But, and I can’t point to exact instances so you’ll just have to believe me, here it fell a little flat. Perhaps there wasn’t quite the same twistiness, or… I don’t know. It just missed the mark a few times.
Still, it’s an enjoyable book, and I have no hesitation in recommending it. Because, yo, Nac Mac Feegles.
I read Pattern Recognition, which is loosely connected to Spook Country, last year, and got to the end thoroughly confused about whether it was meant to be SF or not. Partly this is because yo, it’s William Gibson, Master of Cyberpunk; surely it must be SF?? This is the sort of confusion I also have reading Karen Joy Fowler’s work, sometimes, and I have no doubt that both authors play on that tendency, in those who come with expectations anyway. But back to this novel – I did not have quite the same confusion here. Partly this is undoubtedly precisely because I was confused by Pattern Recognition, and have thought through things like “the SF vibe” etc enough to not expect overtly SF elements. But I think it’s also because there is actually less of said vibe here. Which is not to say that this isn’t an excellent story, of course.
Gibson takes several different narrative threads, all quite disparate, and weaves them together quite delightfully. A few times it was obvious where threads would tangle – which isn’t a problem, just an observation – and a few times they crossed in totally unexpected ways. The threads involve Tito, a young Cuban man involved in some shady deals; a man named Brown, who may or may not be government, whose point of view we never actually get (for which I am thankful) but whose movements are recorded for us by someone he has basically kidnapped; and Hollis Henry, who used to be a rock singer and is now trying to make it as a journalist. These three are really different and have necessarily different ways of viewing the world, and their interactions within it. The contrasting pictures of what is going on are nicely done – when you get into the groove of who is who, I don’t think you could mistake Hollis’ chapters for anyone else’s, nor the others’.
One of the interesting stylistic points here, I think, is that Gibson uses quite short chapters. I don’t have a problem with long chapters, but short chapters have a definite impact on the rhythm of a story, especially when a new chapter heralds a new point of view, as it does here. It definitely contributes to the sense of action and pace, which I enjoyed. Conversely, something which slows the pace a little but by no means detracts from the story is Gibson’s attention to detail. He describes some rooms intimately, and goes out of his way to name brands and describe clothing and buildings. I find this a really fascinating tendency, because it could potentially date the book very quickly. For now, though, it basically works.