Tuesday, 12 January 1999

Terry Pratchett: Jingo (1997)

Edition: Gollancz, 1997
Review number: 184

The twenty-first Discworld novel tackles a most depressing subject - the warmongering, violent side of human nature. The scenario is that the lost continent of Leshp has risen again from the seabed, to be claimed by both Ankh-Morpork and the empire of Klatch. War seems to be inevitable, as patriotism apparently spontaneously breaks out in Ankh-Morpork. The City Watch are once again the centre of things as Commander Vimes tries to work out who is guilty of the crime of attempted murder through warmongering.

The book itself is fairly sombre in tone compared to the rest of the series, despite the convoluted farcical plot. War is a serious subject and the inhumanity of war is not something to be taken lightly (though it has been used to produce some of the greatest humour of the century, such as Heller's Catch 22). There are many obvious parallels intended between the patriots in Ankh-Morpork and the British and French generals of the First World War. Even eight years after the end of that war,m the stupidities of these generals is more material for tragedy than comedy, and even the best comedies which deal with it (Oh What a Lovely War, or Blackadder Goes Forth for example) have strong tragic elements which are almost entirely missing from this novel. On the other hand, the tragedy is so strong that even the more tragic works dealing with the War use comic effects (examples of this include Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and many of the poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.)

The way that Pratchett writes about a non-naturalistic world in which he makes parallels with real history dilutes the tragedy while at the same time subduing the comedy. The fact that Jingo is the twenty-first Discworld novel tempts the reviewer to say that the series is coming of age, but that is not really the case; no serious points are made which have not been better made elsewhere, and Pratchett writes better when he does not even try to make serious points.

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