Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Snuff by Terry Pratchett Review

I bought Snuff when it first came out in 2011, not realising then, like everyone else, that it was going to be the final City Watch book. I sadly abandoned it long before the end anyway, sensing that it wasn’t any good. But, having recently read an excellent Discworld short story reminding me of my love for Terry Pratchett, as well as seasonal nostalgia (new Discworld books used to be cannily published during the Christmas season), I decided to give Snuff another shot and this time force myself through. At the very least I’ll be completing the City Watch series. Well, my initial impression of the novel was right - Snuff ain’t up to snuff! 

Despite his protests, Commander Sam Vimes is forced to take a vacation. His beloved wife, Lady Sybil Ramkin, drags him and their son, young Sam, to the Ramkin Estate in the countryside for a well-earned family break. But crime doesn’t take a holiday and soon the Discworld’s finest policeman is on the trail of a goblin murderer and, in the process, uncovers a vast and unsavoury conspiracy that goes all the way to the top… 

One thing that bothered me when I first tried reading Snuff six years ago was how extremely verbose and cumbersome Pratchett’s writing style had become. It takes well over 100 pages for anything to happen. Up til then all that had was Vimes and his family had left Ankh-Morpork and gone to the countryside! It takes even longer for the plot to emerge and when it did it was cliched and underwhelming. 

I hated everything about the goblins. They’re basically a race of depressingly put-upon victims, which is as fun to read as it sounds, an unending stream of one-dimensional “characters” who’re just there to be repeatedly fucked with and stoke Vimes’ righteous indignation. The goblins’ culture was boring, everything about them was ridiculously sentimental and cloying, and they were just annoying as a whole. 

Then again, all the new characters in Snuff were rubbish. The hapless country copper Feeney was pointless and tiresome, Miss Beedle, the writer, added nothing to the proceedings, while every rich person was portrayed as a gormless twit. There’s a half-hearted attempt at a Pride & Prejudice parody that fell flat. The villain, Stratford, is somehow even more one-dimensional than even the goblins - there’s another baddie literally called “Captain Murderer”(!), which shows you how little imagination and effort Pratchett put into these “characters”, but that on-the-nose kind of name should’ve applied to Stratford. He may as well have been called Mr I’m A Bad Dude because he’s that much of a caricature! He does evil shit because he’s an evil shit. 

What I realised was that Pratchett really struggles, at least in this book, with the traditional mechanics of storytelling like a plot. Because where the book feels like a chore to read are the plot-heavy parts when he has to move things along, particularly the riverboat “action” sequence, which was utterly dull, and the absurdly talky fight scenes. 

I also continued to not care about Vimes’ family like the infallible Sybil, who’s drearily always right, and his irritating son, young Sam. I really disliked in general how cutesy and safe Discworld got towards the end (oh man, FUCK the Tiffany Aching YA books, fuck them all to hell!), and the stuff with Vimes and young Sam were far too ball-achingly saccharine for my taste. And SO unfunny - young Sam thinks poo is hilarious, repeat 12 million times, har de har har… 

Technically Snuff is a City Watch book but it’s basically all about Vimes. Carrot, Angua, Nobby et al. are given a handful of token pages and there’s a completely half-arsed subplot involving Colon and a goblin pot that’s totally irrelevant. Fred’s in a coma and could die! Oh, never mind, it resolved itself off-page! Well, why bother to start with then?! 

That said, there’s a reason why Vimes gets all the focus: he’s one of Pratchett’s finest creations. The character holds a special place in my heart having seen him transform over the years from the opening pages of Guards! Guards! when we first met him as a down-and-out drunk waking up in the gutters of Ankh-Morpork to the sober Duke he is now, having brought up the City Watch with him along the way. It says a lot about how fully-realised and compelling a character he is that the best parts of Snuff are simply Vimes riffing on whatever. 

And there are definitely parts of the book I enjoyed. Despite coming across as someone far too deeply in love with his own voice, Pratchett’s still very witty and he’s in his element when he isn’t concerning himself with the plot and meandering off somewhere else instead. Vimes conversing with his manservant Willikins was more often entertaining than anything else going on, and, though Pratchett eschewed the tradition of having Death cameo in every Discworld book here, he still included a scene at the end between Vimes and Vetinari verbally jousting one last time, which was pure pleasure for me (think those cliched cop movie scenes between the police chief and the loose cannon but far more clever). I will dearly miss those scenes, especially as Pratchett wrote the Patrician so, so beautifully with that perfect balance between lethally understated menace, benevolent power and razor-sharp intelligence manifested in one remarkably unique mysterious and Machiavellian figure. 

Sadly, Snuff is a weak last bow for Vimes and the City Watch to go out on which is a shame given how brilliant the earlier books were. Perhaps it’s appropriate that poo should feature so much in this one as the quality is disappointingly shit! While I’m glad to have finished off this series, it’s a forgettable final adventure for Vimes that’s not very funny, tediously overlong, and largely unentertaining - ‘snot enuff for this Discworld fan!

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