Sunday, 4 January 2009

Nation - Terry Pratchett

"To summarize Nation is quite impossible" says Terry Pratchett, and I couldn't agree more. There's so much to say about it. It starts with an island in a pacific-like ocean being hit by a huge wave that wipes out its entire population, except for one, Mau. At the same time, the wave brings the Sweet Judy to the island, carrying a high-class Victorian girl, Daphne, and a swearing parrot.
The book really takes off for me when the two of them starts to know each other. There's the language barrier to overcome and the cultural differences which cause some pretty funny misunderstandings. But they are both ready to learn from each other because it's all they have left. That, and an incredible sense of duty that, as Pratchett points out, brings them together to save the Nation, but will also, ultimately, force them apart.
Mau is a wonderful protagonist, and also a great leader for the new community that starts gathering on the island. He feels like a crab without a shell, without a soul, because his manhood initiation never took place. He's tormented by questions that are hard to answer. What is the meaning of everything? Are gods watching us? And if so, why didn't they do anything to save us, or to warn us? The birds knew about the wave and flew. Why weren't human provided with the same warning system?
In a way, this is a book about the nature of questions and the importance of answers:

So that's what the god are! An answer that will do! Because there's food to be caught and babies to be born and life to be lived and so there is no time for big, complicated and worrying answers! Please, give us a simple answer, so that we don't have to think, because if we think we might find answers that don't fit the way we want the world to be.

But then other kind of questions start to come. What if the wave never happened? The ghost girl, Daphne, would have never arrived. He probably wouldn't have grown so wise and brave. He became a leader because they needed him to be. And he probably would have never questioned the gods and find an answer in the cave of the grandfathers!

Although this book was more serious and complex than I expected, being Terry Pratchett's , it was full of truly hilarious moments. My favourite is the chapter called "A star is born", where Daphne has to help a baby to be born and the men must wait outside and try to guess what is happening inside the hut. The men waiting are so funny and tender and the whole scene made me laugh out loud!
Then there's the whole perception of the "trousermen" who are afraid of legs! So true.
I also loved the parrot, who could scare away the grandfather birds, and I loved the grandfather birds, with their grumpy and disapproving expressions, and of course I loved the grandfathers voices, even though I thought the grandmothers were much wiser than them :P

I'm not sure I'm satisfied with the ending. I wasn't when I finished it, because I like romances to be rewarded at the end, because it's fiction, and because I want so! But, alas, Terry Pratchett is right when he says that the ending is not happy, it's not sad, just appropriate.
I'd like to re-read it one day to fully appreciate the different layers on which the story is based, and to be again with some wonderful characters like Daphne, Mau, Mrs Gurgle, Milo and all the rest.

I just want to say one last thing that bugged me when I read this book. I'm familiar with the notion of parallel universes and always thought it made sense. But if it's true that there's no such thing as "does not happen" but only "happens somewhere else", well, then there should be an infinite amount of universes. If one single event can split into two possibilities and thus two universes, there would be a mind-boggling number of universes being created every minute!
I don't know if I can believe that, though it's fascinating and a great subject for novels.

I leave you with the Pratchett's interview that I quoted from, done for Amazon. I really liked listening to it!:

other reviews:
Guys Lit Wire
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Adventures in Reading


please let me know if I missed yours.


Ana S. said...

Aw, I loved the ending. To me it felt so right. But more than the Mau/Daphne thing, I loved the epilogue set in our days with all the awesome scientists being mentioned and all that.

I keep saying Terry Pratchett is serious and complex, but nobody ever listens to me :P

You make an interesting point about the whole parallel universes things. I'm not sure what I think of it, but I like them in fiction too. I used to be obsessed with this sci-fi TV show called Sliders that was basically about that. Anyway, the thing is...even if that's true, even if everything does happen somewhere, I think "does not happen" still stands. Because without having any access to the alternatives, in a practical sense and in an emotional sense it's as if they didn't exist, you know? All we can react to is what happens in our universe. Unless, of course, we could borrow Will's subtle knife :P

mariel said...

Valentina - I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of Terry Pratchett (ducks from the wrath of the bloggers worldwide..). Well, I have not really enough of his books to say that I don't like him, but what I have read has not made me run out and read the next one. Having said that, I have read nothing but praise for Nation, so might be tempted in the future. Great review!

Nymeth - I loved Sliders, ridiculous universe hopping fun! I also have a subtle knife but it doesn't seem to work properly..I was conned!

chrisa511 said...

Fantastic review Valentina! Personally I think the ending was just perfect, but I can see how some would be disappointed. I liked it though in that it was a realistic ending and nothing was forced. And I had already forgotten about the grandfather birds...they cracked me up :p

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

It's great to read a little bit of criticism about a book that has received so much praise. I have this one on my radar, but I have a few other Pratchett books to get to first. I'm glad that you liked this one overall, though.

Ana S. said...

*throws eggs at Mariel in wrath*

Mariel, I have to admit (very grudgingly, of course :P) that not everyone will love Terry as much as I do, but I have a hard time imagining you not liking at least the Tiffany Aching books. Ask Rhinoa :P

(Sorry for the hijack, Valentina! Leaving now :P )

valentina said...

Nymeth, I should re-read the epilogue. I really liked it too, but I was probably still moaning in my head about Mau and daphne not living together happily ever after:P

And I agree with you about "Does not happen" in our universe, and it's much easier to grasp as well!

oh don't worry, you can hijack my comments any time:)

mariel, what have you read? I read the bromeliad books as a child and now this. I can't really say I'm an expert either!

Chris, I know it's realistic and it's not even sad. Maybe I'm hard to please or maybe I was waiting for their moment to arrive, and it didn't. So people, if you haven't read it and hope for a big romantic scene at the end...forget it! Better spoiled than disappointed;)

Trish, can't wait to know what you think of it!

Debi said...

Why, oh why, oh why have I not read this yet??? Must. Rectify. Soon.