Review: Going Postal

by Tom Ingram

Going Postal is, for a book that is six years old, strangely applicable to recent events. The phrase “too big to fail” appears at least once. The story follows Moist von Lipwig, a conman imprisoned under an assumed name. He is hanged within an inch of his life, and then offered a choice by the Patrician: revive the city’s ailing post office, or die.

Lipwig’s competitors in the message-delivery business are the men who run the Clacks–the network of semaphore towers that stretches across the continent. The Randian businessmen who run the Clacks claim that their corporation will always do better than the government-run post office, but the fact is that the network is a bloated monstrosity that is only still running because all the potential competitors turn up mysteriously dead.

The plot is by now fairly reliable Discworld fare–the same ideas are seen in The Truth, Small Gods, and the entire City Watch series. It may be formulaic, but Pratchett never disappoints. Especially toward the end, Going Postal is a gripping read.

Lipwig is an interesting character: a bad guy. Someone who, in any other Discworld book, would die a hilariously karmic death at the end. He lies, cheats, and steals just because he can, without even a second thought for the consequences. Before it was specifically pointed out, it never even occurred to him that people might be hurt by his actions. His view of the world is coloured by his chosen profession, giving him a cynical perspective on the way things work. And his audacious showmanship is always entertaining.

Unusually for Pratchett, this book is divided up into chapters. They don’t really mean anything–there are breaks in the narrative mid-chapter, and chapter ends aren’t more climactic than anything else. The chapters begin with a Jules Verne-style overview of what’s about to happen. These aren’t especially funny. None of this really detracts from the story, but you do have to wonder what the point is.

This book wasn’t one of the best I’ve read, but the trademark Pratchett humour and wisdom are still there. Going Postal ends on a positive note, with an uplifting message about redemption. Truly, the leopard can change his shorts.

You can find Going Postal online at Chapters, McNally, or Amazon if you’re internationally inclined.