Terry Pratchett – Equal Rites

Terry Pratchett – Equal Rites

When wizard Drum Billet is about to die, he finds a newborn to follow his steps. Yet, there is a slight mistake, it is not the eighth son of an eighth son, but a girl. The midwife and witch Granny Weatherwax knows immediately what this will mean, Eskarina would become the first female wizard. Except for the fact that there is no such thing as a female wizard. Years go by but ultimately, her family cannot ignore her fate. So quite naturally, she will have to be trained, and therefore Esk and Granny make their way to the Unseen University.

“If you were a boy I’d say are you going to seek your fortune?“

„Can’t girls seek their fortune?“

„I think they’re supposed to seek a boy with a fortune.”

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has lost nothing of its appeal after all these years. “Equal Rites” was first published in 1987 and is the third novel in the series. The title is a wordplay on equal rights of course, the main topic of the novel and – quite distressingly – not much has changed since then. Old institutions which still refuse women on the basis of the fact that they have never been allowed there, are still a reality. With impressive irony, the author puts the finger in the wound and yet, the effects seem to be weak.

“It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a half-brick in the path of the bicycle of history.”

Esk is a wonderfully stubborn girl who finds her way into a male world. She possesses a natural force and cannot easily be stopped. Luckily, Granny is by her side to guide her and to make up for some foolish steps. She, too, is a great and lovable character. Even though she somehow accepts that women are witches and men wizards, she does not take male magic too seriously, she knows about the fuss they make with words and their weakness. She is a great representative of those women who have seen through the male facade and know how to work their way around big egos.

“I saved a man’s life once,“ said Granny. „Special medicine, twice a day. Boiled water with a bit of berry juice in it. Told him I’d bought it from the dwarves. That’s the biggest part of doct’rin, really. Most people’ll get over most things if they put their minds to it, you just have to give them an interest.”

It is most of all the little details that Pratchett has paid so much attention to that make the series an outstanding read. The puns are wonderful and the brilliant irony with which he caricatures the real world made me laugh out loud more than once. Reading it from a feminist point of view, the novel is as current as it might ever be.

Sigrid Nunez – What Are You Going Through

Sigrid Nunez – What Are You Going Through

The unnamed narrator is visiting a friend with terminal cancer who is in hospital in another town. She stays with a retired librarian with a cat but her host is quite reclusive and they hardly have any contact during her stay. Between the visits, she ponders about other people in her life: her former partner of whom she attends a public speech on the dystopian future we are facing, her old neighbour who can hardly manage alone, a woman she met in her gym who went through drastic changes, each of them starting point for another in-depth reflection. Her encounters reflect the whole range of people and therefore also introduce pestering issues of our time: the way women are judged and how their position in society and in a family is seen, how we treat the elderly and – the most important aspect – how do we want to die and what will remain of us. Quite unexpectedly, her poorly friend asks her a favour which will target core questions the narrator cannot easily answer for herself.

Just as in her former novel “The Friend”, it is a minor event – then an abandoned dog, here a visit to the hospital – which initiates an interesting journey into the depth of human nature. The narrator’s experiences and encounters are analysed and questioned, it is an introspection which nevertheless is far from very individual and personal but, quite on the contrary, concerns everybody. Especially being close to a dying friend has a huge impact on her thinking, far beyond the question if we should rather ask “What are you going through” instead of “How are you”.

The core issue revolves around suffering and pain and the question how much a human being can endure. How do you go on living in a world which does not seem to have a future, at least not an interesting or desiring one. The plot is minimal, at times rather feels like a collection of anecdotes, but looking at it as a whole, you get an idea of the protagonist who is sad, to a certain extent disillusioned, but not grim. She is still capable of attachment and fondness, even though she knows that it won’t last this time. Every single word becomes meaningful and should be use with care therefore.

Repeatedly, Nunez also has her narrator share her reading experiences with the reader and thus transgresses the boundaries of genres once more. She certainly pushes the limits in many respects and engages the reader in thinking. One of the most interesting questions for me was the one rotating around the problem of what can be reported and by whom the act of narration should be carried out, especially when it comes to experiences of general interest. The narrator questions if there is even a language capable of conveying experiences adequately or if, in the end, all language must fail to authentically depict what somebody underwent.

Nunez’ language surely is plentiful enough to engage you in an interesting inner – and hopefully also outer – dialogue.