Sunday, 4 October 2009

Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals

It almost seems like a waste of time reviewing a Terry Pratchett book. After all, you almost certainly know whether you're going to buy it, and you've probably got a pretty good idea of what you're going to find once you do. Jokes, strange and interesting characters, more jokes, a plot that makes perfect sense while also managing to parody at least two or three other things, and a few more jokes.

Actually, you can probably take the last lot of jokes out in favour of a bit more story and characterisation, as seems to have been the case with several of the last few Pratchett offerings. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but is rather simply a very slight shift in style that leaves us more with stories with funny bits than comedy routines with a story weaving in and out of them.

Unseen Academicals deals with the arrival of football in Ankh Morpork, or at least its modernisation from a form that seems either like a simple brawl or worryingly like several traditional English sports, Eton's wall game included. For about ten seconds this seemed like a problem to me, for the simple reason that I can't stand football. As it happens though, this works anyway, because it expertly parodies the traditional plot employed by almost every sports film ever made, where a team of unlikely sorts must play a game for equally unlikely reasons, bond themselves into a unit, and deal with some suitably nasty opposition at the last minute.

Of course, being Pratchett, there's also time for a quick run on the themes of Romeo and Juliet, some stuff about celebrity culture spinning off from the footballer's wives/girlfriends angle, and also a plot running in parallel about the arrival of a new species in Ankh Morpork's famously mixed up environs. It's as expertly written as ever, and very funny in places. Possibly my favourite moment comes just after one member of the UU team scores a goal, and promptly insists that the crowd chant of 'One Macarona, there's only one Macarona' include his full list of titles and achievements. I would include the subsequent version here, but I don't have the space.

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