Sunday, 5 April 2015

#CBR7 Book 32: "Soul Music" by Terry Pratchett

Page count: 378 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Susan Sto Helit goes to a boarding school, and for the lessons she's less interested in, she has a tendency to fade into the woodwork - literally. Susan has the ability to fade away, should she so wish it. Turns out, this is because her grandfather is none other than Death, and when he goes missing, Susan, as his closest relative, is required to take over his duties for a while. Being deeply pragmatic and rational, thanks to her first rate education, it takes Susan a while to be persuaded, even when a tiny rat skeleton with a cloak and a scythe and a talking raven, not to mention the big white horse, shows up on her doorstep.

While Susan gets reacquainted with the family history her parents tried to keep from her, something new is sweeping through Ankh Morpork - the Music with Rocks in it. The young bard Imp Y Celyn (who looks a bit Elvish) and his band mates, Cliff the troll and Glod the dwarf become unbelievably popular in record time, thanks to the guitar Imp discovered in a mysterious little music shop shortly after he arrived in the capital. The music is something new and different, it has a beat and you can dance to it, and it makes almost everyone who hears it, completely obsessed. This includes many of the esteemed wizards at the Unseen University. Ridcully, the Arch-Chancellor, is curious and unimpressed, and determined to get to the bottom of what is making his faculty and the majority of citizens in the city to behave so strangely.

Soul Music was the very first Discworld novel I ever read. I found it at my local library, which in the mid-90s didn't really have all that many English books and certainly not a great selection of fantasy. The unusual and colourful cover appealed to me and I suspect the blurb on the back made me curious. The book came out in 94, and since I read the trade paperback, I must have discovered Pratchett sometime after 1995, probably before I'd even started high school. It was a completely different reading experience for me. I remember that I kept reading until far later than was sensible on a school night, because the book didn't have chapters, and as such, it was difficult to force myself to put the book down and stop. Soul Music is not one of the truly great Discworld books, but it will always hold a special place in my heart, because it was my first introduction to the writing of Terry Pratchett.

I was still at work, getting everything ready for my lessons the next day, when my husband called to tell me that Terry Pratchett had died. I'm not ashamed to say, I burst into tears. Of course I knew that it would only be a matter of time, as he suffered from Alzheimer's and had always been very open about wanting to choose his own time to die, but it was still a shock. I cried for quite some time before I was able to return to my duties, and kept bursting into tears on and off for days afterwards, every time I read something online about him and the impact his writing made on so many people. It's the strongest I've been affected by the death of a celebrity, someone I never actually knew personally.

I feel lucky and privileged that I got to meet Pratchett at signings, more than once. My husband has a copy of Good Omens, which is signed by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which, considering Gaiman didn't do signings in the UK all that often, makes us cherish the book for more than just being probably the best book they both wrote. Before he got diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Pratchett would pretty much do a UK signing tour every year. He apparently joked once that it was more unusual to find an unsigned copy of his books than one with his signature in it, but I still think the times that I got to see him, and exchange a few words with him were very special. One of the dwarfs in The Truth is called Gunilla, which is my middle name. When I mentioned this to him at a signing, he smiled and said: "Then you probably know what gender that dwarf is."

Pratchett was a wonderful, important writer and in his Discworld books he managed to satirise so many important issues in our society. In some of his books, he is more angry than funny, but until the last few books of his career, when his brain had really started to go, he is a master of language, of plot construction and of wit. His books have made me howl with laughter, and cry buckets. A few of my favourite books of his, are non-Discworld. Good Omens, which I have already mentioned, was co-written with Neil Gaiman and is an amazing take on the apocalypse. Nation is a YA novel that looks at identity, belief, prejudice and cross-cultural understanding. While he may have been writing in the comedic fantasy genre, that doesn't mean that he didn't have very profound things to say. We are lucky that he was a very prolific writer, so there is a great literary legacy remaining now that he's gone. RIP Terry Pratchett.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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