Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Going Postal

Note: While I had written concert reviews in the past, this blog is my first foray into the realm of book reviews. I have come to realize that a book review is a completely different animal (though I guess movie reviews are a similar type of animal). Whereas in a concert review you essentially report, in a book review you can't do that, else you reveal the plot. So forgive me while I learn as I go -- hopefully these will improve with some practice, and if they don't, hopefully I'll have enough sense to recognize that and so stop subjecting you to them. In the meantime, at least you'll know what I'm reading.

Going Postal is the most recent book in Pratchett's Discworld series, and I turned to it almost as soon as I finished Monstrous Regiment. It tells the story of Moist von Lipwig, a convicted con artist who has been given the choice of either running Ankh-Morpork's moribund post office or of dying (long-time readers of the Discworld series may recognize the hand of Lord Vetinari in giving Moist this choice of career paths). Accompanied by Mr. Pump, a golem parole officer who can hunt him down unerringly should he try to escape, he reluctantly takes on the former task. Upon taking the job, Moist learns that the Post Office is a run-down mess almost completely filled by undelivered letters, and that the previous four Postmasters had died on the job (all in the preceding five weeks). But Moist is an optimist, and he's back in the game, so he can't help but raise the stakes in reviving the post office. He soon finds himself taking on Reacher Gilt, the no-good owner of the clacks (the equivalent of the telegraph) in delivering people's messages. Moist also starts wooing Miss Adora Belle Dearheart, the chainsmoking daughter of the inventor of the clacks, who lost ownership of the company to a group of oily investors led by Gilt. Along the way Moist invents postage stamps.

Going Postal is certainly one of Pratchett's better works. Characterwise, Moist isn't the best-developed (e.g., Polly Perks in Monstrous Regiment was better in that sense), but there's certainly enough there for you to empathize with. The other postal workers are entertaining -- Groat especially has more about him than a standard stock character. And Vetinari is as inscrutable as ever.

The plot is well-conceived and appears completely consistent. Even though you know where the book is heading, the enjoyment comes in how Pratchett gets there. In this case, it's with style. Clever wordplay all over the place (don't worry -- the name Adora Belle is surely the least funny), delightful Discworld equivalents to our world, and outrageousness that works. I laughed at numerous passages throughout the book, doing my best not to read the funniest passages to Kathy so she could enjoy them if she reads it. The only quibble I have with the plot is that although the book is chock full of entertaining concepts tied to a Discworld post office, some of those concepts are inadequately drawn out.

Rating: 9/10.

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