Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Review: Going Postal

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (2005)

Moist von Lipwig is a conman.  He sells dud horses, dud diamonds, dud bonds, and basically anything else that the greedy will snatch up thinking that they're getting the better end of the deal.  He's very good at what he does, but one day, the long arm of the law catches up with him.  He's sentenced to death, and hanged.

Then his story begins.  It turns out that, on the orders of Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Lipwig was hanged just enough to die, but not enough to actually kill him.  It's a fine distinction that requires an expert hangman.  At any rate, Lipwig awakens to discover that Lord Vetinari is offering him the job of  Postmaster of Ankh-Morpork.  The alternative is walking out a door with a sheer drop of a hundred feet on the other side.  After a failed escape attempt and the discovery that his parole officer is an unstoppable golem, Lipwig accepts the position.

Unfortunately, the post office has been effectively closed for years because of an insane backlog of undelivered letters.  The building is literally clogged with envelopes and the few remaining postmen are in as bad a shape as the building.  Lipwig must therefore effectively reinvent the post office while trying to slip free of the golem.  Along the way, Lipwig inadvertently invents the postage stamp; sparks off the hobby of stamp collecting. falls in love with the beautiful, chain-smoking,and violent Adora Belle Dearheart; and makes an enemy of Reacher Gilt, the owner of the Clacks.  The Clacks are Ankh-Morpork's mechanical telegraph system that Gilt has been running into the ground because he's had no competition, but now Lipwig is a threat to his monopoly who must be put out of the way.  Fortunately, Mr Lipwig has people skills.

None of this would be too bad, except Lipwig discovers that the letters are talking to him.

The 33rd book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Going Postal at first will seem familar to regular readers because the premise is essentially the same as in Pratchett's earlier novel Truth.  In that one, we have the same story of one man compressing the entire history of newspaper publishing into a few weeks from the invention of the printing press to the development of the tabloid complete with full colour photo layouts.  In many ways, Going Postal feels like a rewrite of the former, though it would be fairer to call it a revisiting.  Certainly Lipwig's lovable conman and the golem rights activist Adora Dearheart are much more interesting characters than their earlier versions and Lipwigs flamboyant efforts to promote the post office, complete with sporting a gold suit, are wildly entertaining as we watch him tap dance from one impossible promise to another.  Even the post office itself with its superannuated Postmen Pats and their strange initiation rituals are worth the price of admission.

If you decide to read it, order your copy and have it posted to you instead of going to the bookshop or downloading the ebook version.  It seems more appropriate.

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