Going Postal ~ Terry Pratchett

  • Title: Going Postal
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Series: Discworld # 33
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Moist von Lipwig is a con artist and a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork’s ailing postal service back on its feet.

It’s a tough decision.

But he’s got to see that the mail gets through, come rain, hail, sleet, dogs, the Post Office Workers’ Friendly and Benevolent Society, the evil chairman of the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, and a midnight killer.

Getting a date with Adora Bell Dearheart would be nice, too…

I’m reading the Discworld series out of sequence but I like everything I’ve read so far. This is the installment #33, one of the latest ones, and it’s not nearly as funny as the earlier books. This novel is more serious; it might even be called tragic… as only a Discworld book could get. I mean, Pratchett’s parody gets so profound here, sometimes you want to laugh and weep at the same time. Or curse at the human follies and corporate immorality. Yes, this book is about greedy corporations.  

In Ankh-Morpork (I still have to peek inside the book to spell the city name correctly), the Post Office is dying. No, it’s already dead, has been dead for decades. Only its empty husk remains, bursting with millions of undelivered letters.

Obviously only a dead man can bring it back to life. Of all the dead men available, the ruler of the city, Lord Vetinari, chooses Moist Van Lipwig (what a name!), a convicted conman, to reanimate the Post Office. But first, Moist must be hanged… halfway.

Afterwards, he’s given a choice: take the job as the Postmaster and restore the city’s postal service or continue with the second half of hanging. Of course, Moist takes the job. Staying alive is mandatory. His employment situation could be fixed later.  Surely, there will be an opportunity for escape.

Or so he thinks. Unfortunately, Moist’s conscience, along with his parole officer, prevents him from bolting. Once he starts the job, he realizes that the Post Office and its employees need his help. And Moist can’t abandon them. Suddenly, he’s responsible for something bigger than the next swindle, and the novelty of the experience keeps him pushing the boundaries of his imagination. The bigger the challenge, the harder he tries, the better he enjoys himself. He wouldn’t let his postmen down. Mail will be delivered, rain or fire! At least, that’s what he promises on the front page of the local gossip rag.  

The obstacles he faces are legion, but the chief one of them is the Grand Trunk Company – your typical unethical corporation. Grand Trunk owns clacks towers – something like a telegraph network but without electricity. I’m not sure about the technology; it seems rather obscure, but the iniquity of the money-hungry owners comes through loud and clear. They want to squash all competition for communications on Discworld, and the reviving Post Office threatens their monopoly. So they sic an assassin on the recently appointed Postmaster and burn the Post Office building.

What Moist does in retaliation could be considered the heights of ingenuity. Or it could be considered the worst fraud in the history of Ankh-Morpork, depending on who you ask. I’m not going to spoil your fun by disclosing Moist’s scheme. Suffice it to say: Lord Vetinari was pleased. And so were all the postal workers. After all, their unconventional leader brought them victory and full-time jobs.

Moist is an unlikely hero. Neither super brave nor overly strong, he doesn’t command armies, wield a sword, or defeat monsters. Instead, he’s a genius with charm and people skills, a true conman with a smidgen of honesty, in short, a decent government official. Bureaucracy is his trade. His brilliant brain is his weapon. He succeeds at impossible tasks by employing unorthodox methods and showmanship. Sometimes, he’s not even proud of his twisted solutions, but nothing nice would work against his corrupt enemies. So he wins his battles by outsmarting the opposition and exploiting stupidity. A conman at his best!

It was a rare joy to read about Moist – one of my favorite fantasy heroes. Don’t you just love a scoundrel with scruples?

The rest of the characters are as colorful as you would expect of Terry Pratchett. The good guys and gals are not perfect; they all have some rather obnoxious quirks that make them real, like your coworkers. On the other hand, the bad guys are so bad, you only need to read the latest corporate scandal in Huffington Post to recognize them.

The two lines of the novel intertwine seamlessly. One is the story of Moist and the Post Office, the story of a clever guy with questionable morals cast in the role of a savior. People’s trust can cause miracles, the writer insists. It can even transform a con artist into a paladin. Of a sort. It can also lead to a number of ridiculous episodes and a few genuine smiles.

The second line of the story is a study of money and corporations, if in a slightly satirical, exaggerated style. It’s not funny – it’s scary. Too realistic. The rich villain of the novel gives the best explanation of the meaning of money I’ve read anywhere:

You think about money in the old-fashioned way. Money is not a thing, it is not even a process. It is a kind of shared dream.  We dream that a small disk of common metal is worth the price of a substantial meal. Once you wake up from that dream, you can swim in a sea of money.

I wonder: those bankers that precipitated the financial collapse of 2008 – did they wake up from that dream? Where did their swimming in the sea of money take them?  

This wonderful book invites you to think. It’s not a comfortable, easy book; it’s a book for smart readers. Highly recommended.


2 thoughts on “Going Postal ~ Terry Pratchett

  1. Well written review, thank you! Going Postal is one of my fave Discworld books and I agree that Moist is an amazing hero even if he is so unlikely.

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