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With the huge shock of going back to work this week after the Christmas break, and consequently running on less than 10 hours sleep and 4000 calories a day, I have not had much energy to write. So I give you my first guest post, a review of Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett, written by my very lovely husband. Please note I do not usually condone the use of American spelling on this site but will allow it this once as hubby did spend the majority of his childhood in California. Enjoy!

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

I was forced to read this in Year 8 English, and I honestly found it to be utter garbage. I said as much in the obligatory book review that every child is forced to write at that age, which surprised my teacher somewhat. In the main, I think I just thought the story was too silly for the subject material; presumably I’d rather have watched Meet Joe Black. I’m not sure why I had those standards at that age, but happily I’ve now regressed to the point where I can regard that sort of silliness as it rightly ought to be regarded: as sheer magnificence.

Honestly, this is now one of my all-time favorite books, although it took me until Year 11 or so to realise it. I also happen to think it’s an excellent introduction to reading Terry Pratchett.

For those unfamiliar, most of TP’s fantasy novels take place in the Discworld (an ancient Hindu-esque flat earth) which contains, amongst other things, suspiciously-familiar locations and nations, magic that is actually pretty good at obeying the laws of physics, and a talking wonder-dog. The novels mostly follow a single character or group of characters, and the story-writing is pretty different between them. The Rincewind series is closer to high fantasy, featuring a hero more inept than Peregrin Took. The City Watch series is Agatha Christie meets Sam Spade via way of Enemy of the State (The movie. Yes, I’m not very cultured…).

Reaper man is part of the Death (the person, not the medical term) series, which explore the more brooding, existential side of fantasy. Death himself is often imbued with more humanity than most of the rest of Pratchett’s characters and this book takes that to the logical extreme: What if Death took a sabbatical and slummed it with the mortals?

The book provides an insightful and honest look into how Death deals with the Damoclesian constant awareness that his own hourglass is running out. To be frank, I found it pretty damn cathartic. But unlike Joe Black (seriously, this was the only other story I could think of that dealt with similar subject matter), Pratchett’s Death was far more recognisable as a human (put another way, Brad Pitt would be totally unsuitable for the role. Zing!)

This deep and mostly serious exploration of the soul is perfectly balanced by the zany but surprisingly-thorough exploration of what would happen if the services rendered by everyone’s favorite guide to the afterlife were withdrawn; essentially filling up the world with too much vivre, and not enough joie.

This book stands apart from even the rest of Pratchett’s Death series and I’d go as far as to say from all other explorations of the essential and inseparable humanity of Death. After all what can we all hope for, if not the care of the Reaper Man?

NB. A word of caution though, I would say that you do have to be British or at least very familiar with British humor (humour?) to really appreciate the book. When I was in Year 8 it had only been 1 year since I first stepped off the boat, and maybe that was the reason I couldn’t get to grips with this book. Presumably, by Year 11 I’d been exposed to just enough cynical pessimism (lovely people, the Brits) to really get it.

- Peter Carleton (aka hubby)

*Those beautiful people I call my fans recall from my previous posts I am not really a fan of Pratchett’s books myself. If I were to make an exception to this rule I think Reaper Man would be it, as I do love the premise of the story. However, for me there’s just too much of what my husband calls ‘British humour’ but I think is just plain ol’ silliness to not make it enjoyable. (And before anyone objects, I love British humour, which being British I just call ‘comedy’, but I don’t think TP is a good example of it.) We are however fully in agreement about Brad Pitt’s acting abilities.*

Back to normal next week folks, until then don’t be afraid to cause marital strife by picking a side of the TP debate in the comments.

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