(It’s almost starting to feel like we have a little bit of an obsession, isn’t it?)
Night Watch, first published in 2002, was written during what I think of as Pratchett’s Golden Era. I’m not alone in thinking this, either: it is widely considered his best book, and with good reason. Night Watch demonstrates Pratchett’s satirical talent at its finest: scathing wit and biting humour cut away at societal hypocrisy with the precision of a scalpel, and sometimes an axe; socio-economic injustice, cultural cowardice, capitalism and classism, and the insidious nature of humanity at its most ordinary are held up for examination in all their corrosive, stagnating glory.
Despite these grim subjects, however, Night Watch is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny: one of Pratchett’s great gifts is his ability to see the humour in the follies and failings of humanity: he shows his love for people even as he rails against our mediocrity and challenges our complacency; he revels in puns and exhilarating flights of wordplay and simultaneously reveals the selfishness and moral weakness that so often betrays and defeats us. At the heart of the novel is a passion and righteous fury that burns like a star, blazing and brilliant–it is Pratchett’s extraordinary mind and soul, and it illuminates and transforms.
Now that I’ve written all that, it occurs to me that this, while true of Night Watch, is also rather true of certain of his other books: in Monstrous Regiment, and I Shall Wear Midnight and at moments in Thud, and even Going Postal or Johnny and the Bomb. The wonder of Pratchett is that he can write an extremely funny book, that captivates you and whisks you away to a world of caricature and absurdity and silly puns, but almost every time, there will come a moment when he transcends all of that, when he sifts through a million million grains of sand and holds up the one that contains something more–when he finds infinity and holds it, ever so lightly, in the palm of his hand, and points at it, and says, “look.”