Monday, September 17, 2007

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

One of the great truisms of the fantasy field has collapsed. One used to be able to tell the "adult" Discworld novels from the "young adult" novels easily -- the latter were divided into chapters, while the former were not. But Making Money is an adult novel -- and also is divided into thirteen chapters. The chapter heads of Making Money also make it clear that Pratchett has discovered clip art, and is quite taken with it.

In the vast, complicated, far-flung Discworld mega-series, Making Money is part of the Ankh-Morpork sub-set, and, more specifically, a direct sequel to Going Postal. The con-man-turned-postmaster hero of that novel, Moist von Lipwig, finds himself ensnared by the unstoppable Lord Vetinari and destined to become the new head of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork. At this point I could say something like "the usual hijinks ensue," but that would do a great disservice to Pratchett -- his plots are not mechanical, and his novelistic breadth and skills at characterization have been increasing steadily for years from an already high level. His plots do tend to be somewhat similar, and his big ending confrontations in particular share strong family resemblances, but his best novels are as breathtaking, universal, and engrossing as anyone's, in or out of the fantasy genre. I could go farther: Pratchett is a master at writing about the real world through the lens of fantasy; there is no aspect of the modern world or human life that he cannot turn his hand to, no bit of knowledge or emotion that he cannot make use of in the omnium gatherum of Discworld.

Pratchett is the true heir of the great 19th century English novelists; he has their concern for the living pulse of a great city, a style and panache that the public loves but which does not condescend to that public, and a sweeping eye that covers all levels of society. It's not hyperbole to say that Pratchett is our Anthony Trollope. He's a prolific writer of almost misleadingly entertaining novels who delights in building up a fictional world that we still recognize as our own, who creates characters that have lives beyond the page, who has a deep humanism, a true empathy for his world and its inhabitants, and who always, always remembers the power of a good story well told. We forget, sometimes, how lucky we are to have a writer like him in our end of the publishing world -- a writer who is not just delightful, but thoughtful.

The main plot of Making Money concerns Lipwig and the Royal Bank; of course there are those who oppose him in his new position, and of course his actions there unsettle segments of the city. That's what Pratchett heroes generally do: they shake things up, and help the world settle into a new shape afterward. The golems, which have been of increasing importance in the last several Ankh-Morpork books, also continue to change local society, culminating in the big ending confrontation I alluded to, above. But Pratchett now keeps everything in the air together -- Making Money doesn't have an "A" plot and a "B" plot, which intersect at the end, but has one plot with many parts. And the joy of a well-plotted book is in following it yourself, so I won't say more than that.

Making Money is one of the high points of a great series by a great writer; it's hard to believe that there may be readers who haven't tried Pratchett's work before, but, if you're one of them, either this book or its predecessor Going Postal would be excellent choices to show you what you've been missing.

Postscript: Has C.M.O.T. Dibbler's full name been revealed before? Because, on page 155, we learn that he is, in full, Claude Maximilian Overton Transcribe Dibbler.


Anonymous said...

Originally C.M.O.T. was "Cut-Me-Own-Throat", with frequent gags about how at this price he was cutting his own throat.
I have a vague feeling that it's been redefined a few times since.

Unknown said...

I think it's Terry Pratchett's American publishers who have discovered clip art, rather than the author himself -- there's none in the British edition.

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