This week I listened to a radio adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s ‘young adult’ novel Nation.
It’s the story of Mau – a boy from a Pacific island tribe who is returning from a rite of passage and so misses a tidal wave that destroys most of the rest of his tribe, the ‘Nation’. He meets Daphne a minor English royal whose ship is wrecked by the same wave. Together with a few other refugees they begin to build/re-build a life, and I guess, society on the island.
I enjoyed this. I liked the relationship between Mau and Daphne. She has a slightly irritating habit of being the sensible down-to-earth straight-talking girl whilst all adults and most males are silly and/or stupidly wrong. He has the annoying habit of sounding a bit twee – an attempt to make his language seem unsophisticated but not stupid I think.
The strangest thing about it is the relationship with the supernatural. On the one hand there’s a story thread about how Mau doesn’t believe in the gods, he thinks that they are stories made up when we don’t know or can’t find out the real reasons for things – he does come to the conclusion that whilst they may be fiction, they can be a useful fiction because they allow you to stop asking big questions about why are we here and get on with doing the things you need to do to survive. On the other hand there’s Locaha – the spirit of Death – and the voices of the dead (the ‘grandfathers’ speak to Mau and the ‘grandmothers’ to Daphne) and they appear to be real. So you have this odd juxtaposition of Mau talking about why he doesn’t believe in the gods shortly after having returned from a visit to the land of Locaha. I think those arguments get a little lost.
However near the end a character observes that no matter how much science we study we still speak of ghosts – so I guess he’s just being consistent in the idea that we always want supernatural in our stories.
In case you’re wondering I’m not counting this toward 6000 pages because I’m not doing that with audio books this year.