Terry Pratchett – Corgi Childrens, 2009
As this was my first foray into the world of Terry Pratchett and his rather extensive range of fiction, I was uncertain what to expect. Although I had, before reading it, been reliably informed that Nation bears little resemblance to his other range of work and in particular his Discworld series.
This stand alone novel is a coming of age, adventure story that sees main character, Mau, who was born and lives on the self-titled small island of Nation, and Daphne, whose father is 139th in line to the British throne, attempt to cope after their unlikely and differing worlds crash in to one another.
The premise of the book is intriguing and inviting and the story has great potential to be something amazing; a book that could change how you think and therefore stay with you for sometime to come. But sadly, Nation doesn’t live up to its possibilities, and it becomes the sort of book that you can’t quite put your finger on the reason why.
The story unfolds as they struggle to make sense of what has happened to them, and the dramatic changes to their lives as they once knew them, that follow. While Mau is plagued with the internal voice of his ancestors, Daphne has imprinted upon her the lessons of her overbearing and bossy Grandmother.
Pratchett’s sense of humour is undoubtedly evident and there are many sections where the writing style is understated, and truly funny. Disappointingly, however, there other parts of the book where the comedy is over-played, leaving us annoyingly aware of Pratchett waving his writer’s cap at the reader.
The story itself, which although published for children seems overly weighted with grown up issues, was enjoyable and has the feel of being a traditional fable. Beneath the surface of the story there is a deeper meaning that is tackled both subtly in some places and not so subtly in others, encouraging us to question the big issues: the meaning of life, religion as we know it, our individual purpose in being here, beliefs we may hold, and who we choose to be. Heavy stuff, although most of the time it doesn’t feel that way and that is due to the comedic element, and for the most part voiced through the character and actions of Daphne.
At other times, there was a slightly annoying sense of being lectured and preached to, which left me feeling disinterested, which is a shame because the story and its message is all there. And if the lectures had been omitted we would have got it, and without the author’s heavy handed prompting.
Being slightly picky, the language barrier between Mau and Daphne, which is comical to start with, begins to grate. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to feel a connection developing between two characters and being let down, due to their lack of communication..
Although Pratchett does do a fast-forward summary within a paragraph explaining that they have begun to understand one another with some help from other characters, we are given the implication that they are still at a basic level of conversation. However, by the end of the book, this language obstruction has been abandoned and Mau and Daphne are conversing without any difficulty most of the time. It’s a slight bug bare that leaves me questioning: ‘well when did they begin to fully comprehend one another?’
The opening few chapters of the book seemed choppy and it took me a while to get in to the story and really be involved and concerned about either of the characters and their destinies. Once the writing flows within longer paragraphs the pace picks up and then you’re flying. Towards the end though, there was a return to the opening choppiness and a gradual decline into a final chapter that feels the need to summarize. This chapter felt like an unnecessary account of the book that we had just read, and slowed the ending down. If the story had been continued further and we had stayed with the characters lives just a short while longer the same message and wrapping up of the novel could have been achieved, but through story rather than explanation. A small point, but it did leave me finishing the book on a disgruntled note.
Overall, Nation is a solid read, with a thought provoking premise, and lots of laughs in it too. Whether children would plough through it and enjoy the concepts I don’t know, and a lot of the humour seems aimed at adults. However much I enjoyed it, I just can’t help thinking that Nation could have been more, and that I should’ve come away feeling that I’d read one of those rare books that, over time, would change my life.