Tuesday, 16 June 2015


Terry Pratchett Mort (1987)
I read this whilst staying at my mother's house in England. There didn't seem much point in my taking books for the visit seeing as she has plenty and tends not to read rubbish, so there's always something worth a look, and she has eclectic tastes - everything from Sophocles to Dickens to Julian Barnes to Terry Pratchett. Actually, I was a little surprised to see Pratchett paperbacks amongst all her other stuff during my previous visit, myself having initially failed to get on with his writing, so I tried one and found I enjoyed it despite misgivings hatched some years before; and now it seemed like it might be time to have a shot at another.

The aforementioned misgivings are based on an assumption, itself based on the first ten pages of my initial attempt to read Guards! Guards!, specifically an assumption of Pratchett having been more or less Douglas Adams with wizards. I haven't read Douglas Adams in many years, and to be fair I may find that my impression of his writing has changed since I last read anything, but what I recall is of an excessive reliance on understated absurdity - that being as good a catch-all term for his style as any, I suppose; in other words, an emphasis on a fairly repetitive type of humour derived from the contrast between the muted tone of the description and that absurdity of that which is described, and in Adams' case described as though by an indignant rural English clergyman wishing not to appear overly demonstrative.

Pardon me, but I couldn't help noticing a spaceship made of fudge and piloted by hippos parked just behind the village hall. I wouldn't mind but the ladies of Mrs. Wiggins' coffee morning appear somewhat flustered.

Yes - ha ha, but it gets fucking exhausting after twenty or so pages, regardless of whatever else the story may be trying to do; or at least it does for me because it seems quite predictable and all a little obvious. Terry Pratchett tends to do roughly the same sort of thing, although when I finally got around to taking another shot at Guards! Guards! I realised that he does it a lot better. His prose is more poetic, feeling less forced, and less like something serving principally to deliver a series of gags, resulting in what feels a little more solid and satisfying as a story.

For all that, whilst I enjoyed Mort - in which the grim reaper takes on a gangly, feckless teenager as his apprentice with hilarious consequences - I didn't enjoy it anything like as much as I thought I would, and in places it really felt unfortunately like a better written Douglas Adams with wizards. The characters are pretty thin, which would be okay under the circumstances but for being just a little too thin for me to be able to remember or care who was who each time I returned to the book, and so it all became a chore, and sadly of less appeal than the small box of gentleman's interest publications I found in the spare room amongst the things which never made it into the boxes of my crap shipped when I moved to the States four years ago. Mort's understated absurdity expressed as a zinger more or less every other paragraph might have benefited from the contrast of improved scene setting, something to invoke a bit of atmosphere, but then again, it could be just me - reading in a no longer familiar environment, head spinning from jetlag, a recent minor illness, and meeting people I haven't seen for years on an almost daily basis. On the other hand, when comparing notes with my mother, it turned out that she hadn't much enjoyed Mort either; so whilst my impression of Pratchett as a fairly decent writer and possibly a national institution remains more or less undiminished, I guess this just wasn't one of the better ones.


  1. Pratchett started off as pretty much exactly "Douglas Adams with wizards", but got progressively less so over the bulk of his career (the last few novels, sadly, show a decline). First the jokes started getting funnier, and then the books became better as novels, rather than just as strings of jokes.
    Mort is only the fourth of the Discworld series, and very far from the best of his work. For the best of Pratchett, you really want Small Gods, Jingo, Night Watch, The Truth, and Going Postal -- those are the ones that work best as actual novels. Avoid anything with Rincewind as a main character -- those books are pretty much all just Carry On Wizarding...

  2. Mort, as mentioned, is pretty early in the run. Personally, I'd recommend a slightly different selection from Andrew above, if only because I think Small Gods suffers from Babylon 5 syndrome (i.e., trying to smash heads with reasonableness): I'd replace SG with one of Witches Abroad/Maskerade/Reaper Man (Witches Abroad taking Pratchett's witch characters, and shoving them into a fairy tale with not-so-hilarious consequences from what I remember, Maskerade shoving them into opera with absurd consequences, and Reaper Man just being quite good and a sort-of sequel to Mort). Mainly because I think they're better reads.

    From what I remember, Lords and Ladies, Men At Arms, Interesting Times, Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant are all pretty good, too - but I'm easily amused by bad puns and Adamsian nonsense.

  3. I, on the other hand, feel that Small Gods is the absolutely BEST fictional story about religion ever written, even more perceptive given that the author was, at the time, a declared atheist.

  4. The only discworld books I've read are Mort and Small Gods and I wished I liked both more than I actually did. The one book by him which I adored is Truckers which is a very funny and charming sort-of updating of Gulliver's Travels. That said, I still think Pratchett was one of the best and most likeable cultural ambassador's England's ever had and was really saddened by his recent death