by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal includes a big change from earlier novels in the series. For the first time since The Colour of Magic, Pratchett has divided his story into chapters. Unlike The Colour of Magic, Going Postal is, in fact, a single novel, not a collection of stories. This novel begins with the hanging death of Pratchett’s hero, Moist von Lipwig and then follows his subsequent work as the newly appointed Postmaster of Ankh-Morpork.
Although several traditional characters, such as Lord Vetinari, Archchancellor Ridcully and Captain Carrot make cameo appearances, the majority of the cast, including all the major characters, are new for this book. von Lipwig, introduced as a con man who is given a second lease on life with the assistance of a parole officer golem, is Pratchett’s protagonist and may evolve more than any other Pratchett character over the course of a single novel.
Of course, one of the reasons Pratchett’s Discworld books resonate so well is because he satirizes real world issues. Going Postal is no different, and Pratchett primarily takes on giant organizations that put the making money, especially personal money, ahead of anything else. Colleting mania also comes in for its fair share of skewering, whether it is the collection of infinitesimally different pins to the more obvious differences in stamps.
Very early in the novel, Pratchett makes the reader sympathize with von Lipwig even as it is clear that he shouldn’t be the most sympathetic of men. Pratchett does this by demonstrating time and again von Lipwig’s underlying decency when dealing with his fellow man (or woman), at least on an individual level. Even as he thinks of people as suckers in the abstract, von Lipwig thinks of them, whether the elderly postman Mr. Groat or the young apprentice Stanley, as individuals, quirky, perhaps, but real.
On the other hand, von Lipwig’s nemesis, Reacher Gilt, who runs the Great Trunk clacks from behind the scenes, has all of von Lipwig’s faults, but without his humanity. By doing this, Pratchett makes it clear what makes a hero or a villain and how similar the two can be. Although it may appear as if this is heavy-handed, in fact, Pratchett creates the parallels with tremendous finesse and it does not beat the reader over the head.As a side note, any book which includes a reference to coelacanths, no matter how brief, is a book which should be read and savored.
While Pratchett is known as a humorist, Going Postal, like so many of his books, is a book in which the humor is implicit in the situation. This means that while the book will elicit smiles, it will rarely cause the reader to laugh out loud. Nevertheless, Going Postal is a very funny novel which has the additional benefit of making the reader think about the institutions which come into focus under Pratchett's satirical scrutiny.
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