Monday, July 2, 2012

Book 11/50 Carpe Jugulum

Carpe Jugulum   Terry Pratchett        fiftyfiftyme category: Major

I hate vampire fiction. The last vampire story I enjoyed was Lost Boys  in the late eighties, which enjoyment I'm sure had a lot more to do with Echo and the Bunnymen and Jamie Gertz than it did with vampires. The persistent obsession with necrophilia in books, TV series and movies over the last decade or more leaves me utterly cold. Because of my thorough contempt for the genre, when I learned that Carpe Jugulum,Terry Pratchett's twentythird Discworld novel and sixth in the witches series, was parodying vampire fiction, I was very much looking forward to reading it. Sadly, it disappointed me.

All the Discworld novels are intended to hold a mirror up to some elements of this world's society and poke fun at  them. The problem with Carpe Jugulum is that there wasn't that much fun. For this, I don't entirely blame the vampires. The bits where he pokes fun at all things vampiric are fun, by and large. The problem lies, not so much with the vampires (sorry, vampyres) but with the witches.  Pratchett's witches are some of his most complex and interesting characters, but that very complexity can mean that their storylines are short on humour. This is because Pratchett uses them to examine thought-provoking issues and abstract ideas, which are not always easy to make light fun of. This is especially true of Granny Weatherwax. She is by far the deepest of the witches, and her character is the one that examines the challenging questions. As a result, any time a witches story revolves mostly around her there's a noticeable reduction in easy humour. That was definitely true in this story, a great deal of which was Granny wrestling with issues that were not remotely amusing.

One of the major themes in this book is an examination of the role, purpose and validity of faith. It's something that Pratchett touches on a lot of his books, and is at the very core of Small Gods, which is still my favourite of the 23 books I've read so far. His handling of the subject in this book seemed confused and disordered. It may have been by design, as an attempt to highlight some of the confusions and contradictions that can exist in the life of a religious person, but to me it just read as awkward and vague. I wasn't sure whether the intent was to mock religion and faith, or to find a rationalisation for its existence, a way to excuse those people for whom faith is an important part of their life. That uncertainty and lack of clarity and direction made lots of this book quite dull to read. Small Gods challenged faith and mocked the structures of organised religion with single-minded purpose and great humour, and I found it hard to put down, laughing my way through the whole book in a very short time. In contrast, it took me nearly 2 weeks to finish Carpe Jugulum, because so many passages seemed stodgy and confused, and the book failed to grip me.

Even a substandard Pratchett book is still not a bad read. His gift for insight, and the ability to express that insight in amusingly concise ways still peeks through every now and again. I was happy that the last quarter of the book was largely a return to  form, and there were plenty of opportunities to laugh out loud during the climactic final pages. Even Granny Weatherwax, after providing much angst and metaphysical debate for most of the book, ended up generating a lot of laughs. The other highlight of the book for me was the introduction of the Nac Mac Feegle, which left me eagerly anticipating Wee Free Men, the book in which they are the central characters.

I'm pleased I read this book, and there are a few passages from it that resonated deeply with me. Overall though, it's not one of my favourites, and I hope that the next Discworld book I read returns to the seamless blend of observational parody and analysis that marks Pratchett at his best.

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