This is another book that came to me by chance and definitely a reason to get people to agree with each other what to get you for Christmas. There once was a boy who loved Terry Pratchett sooooo much that he wrote to Santa Claus a huge list of Terry Pratchett books. He then gave this list to his mum who then, instead of shipping it straight to Mr Claus himself sends it round to all of the boy’s relatives. And that’s how he by ended up with two copies of Nation. One of which he subsequently gave to me.
Terry Pratchett, probably best known for writing the Discworld series and his strange sense of humour, decided to branch off from his usual fantasy world and create a strange new one, based roughly on our own lovely planet. The differences, however, are completely irrelevant because he sets the entirety of the book in a small set of bizarrely named islands some distance from a strangely warped Australia. My point of all this is that including a world map in the front and back of the novel is pointless if you aren’t going to use it.
The book itself is pretty good. The main protagonist Mau develops at a steady rate throughout the book and courage and determination, even if he is a young boy, is actually believable. When he meets Ermintrude, or the ‘ghost girl’ as she is referred to, there is the problem of the language barrier which is a tricky thing to replicate in the novel format especially with Pratchett’s approach. We meet Mau first and all his dialogue is in English even though, when we meet the ghost girl, she is speaking English too, for our convenience. They overcome it by drawing pictures in the sand and it could have become really confusing, but Pratchett handles the perspective well.
There are a few niggles and one of them is really basic. The spelling, grammar and punctuation goes out of the window around page 159 of 404, leaving 245 pages of missing ‘a’s and repeated words, strange commas and absent full-stops. This is isn’t as bad as Stephen King’s Carrie but it’s also not Terry’s first novel.
I don’t really have much to say about the story, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. It goes from A to B, doesn’t throw any curve balls or push any envelopes and these days that’s quite the achievement. However the second half of the book seems to be missing Prachett’s ironic satiric twang which I found disappointing. The lack of envelope pushing led me to switch off for literally pages at a time but when I switched on again I found that I hadn’t missed much and that means there is a quite a large amount of unnecessary narrative.
I have to say, I think Terry anticipated this review. After I got to the end of the story I read through the author’s note at the end and he seems to have thought, ‘Okay This is My Face. I know what you’re about so here! Now try picking my novel apart.’ There are a list of justifications in the back about things that happened in the book, such as bullets being shot through water and the whole multi-verse theory. So thanks for the material Terry! Now I can criticise you instead.
There is nothing worse about an author who feels the need to justify his research. By explaining in the note that his world in an alternate reality, it not only gives him the leeway to get historical facts wrong, but further negates the need for the stupid map in the front, and the back, of the book. We can see from the map it’s an alternate reality. By stating it again in the notes, thinking you’ve pulled the wool over our eyes, is just plain insulting to the reader. As for the other justifications, it just shows that Pratchett doesn’t have faith in his own narrative. And if people cared that much (like me) they would go away and research the things they doubted.
Whew, I wasn’t expecting to get that worked up. I guess it did push one envelope after all.
I think ‘good’ is a fair summary of Nation. It’s by no means great but it’s not the worst fantasy book I’ve ever read. As far as recommendations go, to people who aren’t familiar with Pratchett, I would suggest giving this one a miss and reading the Discworld novels instead.
Nation by Terry Pratchett was published by Doubleday in 2008. RRP £16.99 (Hardback)