2017 Book Challenge [1/25] Terry Pratchett – Monstrous Regiment

#NationalReadingDay seems a good a day as any to start this off… my plan is to read 25 books this year and give a little reflection on each one. I was gonna try and do 50 books but this is a little more realistic (works out at about a book a fortnight) and means I won’t feel rushed or dissuaded from reading longer books.

[1/25] Terry Pratchett – Monstrous Regiment

“You take a bunch of people who don’t seem any different from you and me, but when you add them all together you get this sort of huge raving maniac with national borders and an anthem.”

Monstrous Regiment is a re-read of a what was my LEAST favourite book by my favourite author. I first read this when it came out in 2003, and teenage Dan found it dull and difficult to get through, as it didn’t have a lot of pace and seemingly lacked a lot of the silly humour that most of the Pratchett’s I’d read beforehand had in spades. It’s safe to say that the major themes of nationalism, gender equality, and the subtler comments about the power of propaganda and the distortion of truth flew right over my head on that first read – because this time around I couldn’t help thinking that this might be one of his strongest and cleverest books.

The plot is essentially a re-write of Mulan (apparently – I’ve never seen it), following the story of a teenage girl (Polly) who pretends to be a boy in order to join the army and look for her brother – so as you’d imagine, this allows for plenty of scope for Terry to share his thoughts on gender and equality. As a man, I hold the crushing self-doubt and lack of qualification that comes with declaring something as ‘feminist’ or positive in that respect, so I’d love to hear a woman’s perspective on this one because I think he absolutely nails it.

Other than that, its just an amazing critique of war, jingoism and especially of nationalism and the pig-headedness that drive countries (read: not the soldiers themselves) to come to blows. It might actually be the best book about war I’ve read since Catch-22, though I am also planning to read Slaughterhouse 5 as part of this challenge, which I’ve heard nothing but praise about.

No-one ever seems to actually listen to me when I say Terry Practchett is so, so, so worth reading – because everyone seems to assume that the fantasy setting means it’ll be a silly book about dungeons and dragons. But this era of his writing in particular (‘Thud!’, ‘The Truth’, ‘Going Postal’ etc.) are some of the best commentaries on the modern world that I’ve ever come across. Monstrous Regiment would actually be a good starting point because it’s more of a stand-alone novel, set in an unfamiliar part of the Discworld, and doesn’t feature many of the classic recurring characters. Plus, considering what’s happening in America (and worldwide), this felt really topical even though it’s nearly 15 years old.

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