Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nation - Terry Pratchett

Before I read this, if anyone had asked which was my favourite Pratchett book, I would have struggled to come up with an answer. There were several contenders on the list. Now, I won’t have a problem (unless he writes something better, of course).

This is a remarkable novel. The writing, as always, is superb. Pratchett has a storyteller’s voice. He can (and often does) convey the most complex of ideas through the simplest of situations, using the simplest of language. This is because he loves the story and he loves his readers. And here, a writer of excellence has excelled himself.

Moving away from Discworld, he uses events of contemporary resonance (flu epidemic, tsunami, imperialism) and sets them in a world very much like our own. Within this context, he tells the story of a survivor of a tsunami that has destroyed his whole tribe. We see how, with the help of a young girl from the other side of the world, he begins to rebuild his nation. Along the way, they both question everything, finding their own answers and rebuilding a world that suits new times.

Integral to this beautifully told tale are meditations on love and loss, on belief and religion, on politics and the nature of power, on personal relationships, on what it means to be human. Pratchett never preaches, but he does provoke thinking and the idea that we should all think for ourselves and, where possible, do things for ourselves. And that is a good thing.

Such a short review as this can’t do the book justice. I have no doubt that it has been dismissed by many as a fantasy for children. Well, it is that, and it should not be disregarded because of this. For one thing, it is destined to be a classic. For another, it contains more humanity and philosophical discussion than most literary authors manage in a lifetime of writing. And it is so well written it should be offered as a set text for all aspiring authors. Above all, however, it is a superbly told tale – a story to be enjoyed for its own sake, a story to be revisited.

Buy it. Read it. Read it again.