Going Postal by Terry Pratchett [RIP, you are very missed]
Alas, I do not remember which of his books I read first. But Going Postal is my favorite among all the books I have ever read. Last year I had learned that the Brits made a video of it and was able to get from the library and it was respectable job, but to my recollection, did not capture what Pratchett’s writing manages like no other I have read: half the content of the book is not WHAT HE WRITES but what he DOESN’T WRITE. I have tried to put my finger on this for years without success. Until now. Now that I LISTENED to the book on CD read by a masterful narrator. He captures more than the words; he captures the meaning behind the words that is often different from what the words as written are actually on the page.
HE IS MY FAVORITE AUTHOR AND NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY! He makes me snort and laugh and giggle and have wry smiles and nod appreciatively and gasp in amazement when something so minor, so thrown away chapters ago becomes significant and masterfully portrays the cleverness of a particular character, or their steely determination, or their ability to read between the lines themselves.
In art it would be called negative and positive space. A good painting or photograph illustrates some subject, flowers or whatever, but the background — negative space — is incidental, or meant to disappear, hopefully in harmony and balance and not disjointed from the main subject. A great image integrates the negative and positive space so that the parts NOT THE SUBJECT are EQUALLY IMPORTANT TO THE COMPOSITION. For example, the space between the curve of a woman’s arm and her waist that forms a diamond that is repeated by the position of a space between her dress and the wall. The negative space defines the positive space as much if not more than the other way around.
Ordinary, even very good authors are excellent at positive space. Putting the words on the page, putting the best word on the page is even better, and using techniques like ending chapters on cliff hangers and switching scenes in the next so you have to go on to learn what happens. Even better authors gently and subtly put little hints of things to come, or more often state their intentions baldly, “If only I had known then. . . ”
Terry Pratchett’s writing is more like a weaving than a flat page in a book or a photograph.
As an example of ordinary writing, consider mystery stories. They start out with x, toss in a murder, throw in some red herrings and obstacles, and proceed to resolution, usually with the protagonist’s life being threatened, or loved ones, because the drama is presumed to be in the threat level. You can flip to the end and see if you guessed the antagonist correctly and decide if the journey is worth making or not. Too often lately, I have decided not, and turned to non-fiction. Even when I know how those books end (e.g. history), the pleasure is in the details of how we got there, with very frequent completely unexpected twists, and most shockingly to me, things happened in plain sight during my lifetime when I thought I was paying attention but it turns out I was clueless.
Terry Pratchett makes you enjoy every sentence, every word as if each were a treat to savor and listen to or read over again and again and still laugh anew (or feel sorrow, or rage, or satisfaction) every time in Going Postal in particular. Not a false note, nor too many, and every word serves a purpose.
Continue reading Satire and Great Read: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett