Oct 28, 2009

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Most Discworld books have complex plots that are notoriously difficult to summarize, and Unseen Academicals is no exception. This is the story of the revival of football in the city of Ankh-Mopork, which begins when Unseen University creates its very own team. It’s also the story of Mr Nutt, who thinks he’s a goblin but isn’t quite sure, and of Glenda, a smart and determined young woman who runs the University’s night kitchen. And it’s also a Romeo and Juliet-esque (albeit much less dramatic) love story between supports of two rival football teams.

In case you’re wondering, yes, football does play a big role in the plot of Unseen Academicals, but the story is not about football, not really. What is it about, then? Well, conflicts and immigration, dehumanizing others and stereotypes and urban violence; the fashion world, people being judgemental while telling themselves everything they’re doing is for The Greater Good, acceptance, belonging, success, passion and enthusiasm; being who you are, other people letting you be who you are, remembering history while not letting it define you, the fact that there are always several sides to one story, and…well, you get the point. As the rest of the Discworld series, it’s really about life.

Unseen Academicals is full of humour, wisdom, and passion. Terry Pratchett excels at showing people both at their most glorious and at their most ridiculous, and he does this without ever ridiculing them. I’ve never been a sports fan myself, but I have always respected other people’s enthusiasm for it, and I see no point in pretending that some passions or interests are intrinsically more valuable or valid than others. This book, too, is filled with nothing but respect for that kind of passion, and there are scenes that capture it so well that I was moved. You most certainly don’t need to care about football to take the characters’ emotions seriously.

I think I'd pair Unseen Academicals with other very Ankh-Morpork books in my head: Going Postal and Making Money, for example, or The Truth. They may not be my favourite Discworld books, but they’re still…well, I can’t tell you what they’re like because I used my cheesecake analogy recently on Nick Hornby, but you get the point, which is that I still like them a whole lot

As my poor attempt at a synopsis might have indicated, there's a lot going on at the same time here, which is not at all an uncommon in Discworld books. I don't want you to think this means the plot is confusing, though, because it absolutely isn't. But Unseen Academicals was exceptional in that I actually cared about all subplots more or less equally—with Mr Nutt’s story having only a slight lead. Mr Nuts is... well, I can't tell you much about who or what Mr Nutt is without giving too much away, but trust me, he's an unforgettable character. And so is Glenda. By the end of the book I cared as much about them as about the old favourites who made appearances, like Angua or Vimes or the Patrician.

Well, okay, maybe not as much as I care about the Patrician, but that's because Lord Vetinari. is just something else. I'd explain why, but Aarti put it so well on her recent post on why she would marry him that I'll just send you her way. Needless to say, I was thrilled that we get to see lots of him in this book.

Reading a new Discworld novel always feels like coming home. May there be many more of them.

Favourite bits:
‘Well, yes, but it’s not about the football.’
‘You’re saying that football is not about football?’
Glenda wished she’d had a proper education, or, failing that, any real education at all. But she was not going to back off now. ‘It’s the sharing,’ she said. ‘It’s being part of the crowd. It’s chanting together. It’s all of it. The whole thing.’

‘It’s a kind of medicine with words,’ said Nutt, carefully. ‘Sometimes people fool themselves into believing things that aren’t true. Sometimes that can be quite dangerous for the person. They see the world in a wrong way. They won’t let themselves see that what they believe is wrong. But often there is a part of the mind that does know, and the right words can let it out.’ He gave them a worried look.

‘…The Shove makes up the chants. They just happen. They just, like, come out of the air. And the pies are pretty awful, that’s true, but when you’re in the Shove, and it’s mucky weather, and the water’s coming through your coat, and your shoes are leaking, and then you bite into your pie, and you know that everyone else is biting into their pie, and the grease slides down your sleeve, well, sir, I don’t have the words for it, sir, I really don’t, sir. There’s a feeling I can’t describe, but it’s a bit like being a kid at Hogswatch, and you can’t just buy it, sir, you can’t write it down or organize it or make it shiny or make it tame.”
Other Opinions:
Ooh Books
Paperback Reader
I’m Booking It
Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
(Did I miss yours?)


  1. You managed to articulate your thoughts about this so much better than I did! I find Pratchett difficult to summarise but then I think you have had more practice than me (this is only my second Pratchett review to date.)

    Your Romeo and Juliet comparison reminded me of the great line from Glenda (when they go to see Starcrossed Lovers?) when she ponders why nobody thought of checking for a pulse.

  2. The more I read about this book the more I want to read it. Thank you for your thoughts!

  3. This seems like a book I would like to read.
    Thank-you for your great review Ana

  4. Yay I love hearing great things about this book and what a fantastic summary of what this book is about, it's something I want to show to everyone who says Pratchett is funny, but not really writing anything important.

  5. Is your cheesecake analogy anything like my pizza analogy? That would be along the lines of, "Even bad pizza is really good!" :-) I hear The Luggage makes a comeback in this book. Is it true? I LOVE Luggage!


  6. I've never read any Pratchett, but I'll have to give him a try. Thanks for the review!

  7. I am looking forward to this one, but I'm still way back on Sourcery! Ah well... I will get here eventually.

    Incidentally, I believe I recently related the Discworld books to pie, if that helps with the analogy. Some pies I like more than others, but all pies are worth eating.

  8. Reading this one now, and your review makes me so excited about it! And thanks for the mention :-)

  9. Great job reviewing Pratchett! I've read a few and wondered how the heck I'd ever review them. You did great and I can't wait to read this one.

  10. I do care about football, so I'd probably love this book!

  11. Great job with this review. I'm obviously a huge Nutt and Glenda fan from my review. Kiirsten is so right about the pie analogy. I'm off to read Aarti's post. I'd marry Lord Vetinari, too.

  12. I did enjoy the Terry Pratchett books I read earlier in the year, though I don't know if I would enjoy this one. I just can't stand football and I have avoided the Nick Hornby one about football too.

  13. I have tried unsuccessfully to read Terry Pratchett a few times now. I'm not ready to give up yet, as I think he's an author I could enjoy, but I just get so confused. I guess it's that complex plot you mentioned.

  14. I haven't read anything by Pratchett yet though he is on my TBR list. You wrote a great review.

  15. Can't wait to read this one! It's going to be one of my Christmas presents, so I unfortunately have to wait... :(

  16. I have never actually read a Terry Pratchett book but I love the football quote: "You're saying that football is not about football?" What a rich sentence!

  17. The more I read about the Discworld series, the more I think that it's something both my husband and I would love. Until recently I had no idea where to start, but I checked out the wikipedia page and found out which was first in the series, and am going to be ordering it this week. I am really looking forward to it because everyone who mentions the books says they are great. Great review on this one, and I am glad that you got to hang out with some familiar favorites as well as some new characters. I will let you know what I think of the first book.

  18. Have never read any Pratchett, but am very very intrigued by Glenda, Mr. Nutt and the night kitchen.Hmmm...Thanks as always for the wonderful review.

  19. I need to get to the next one in this series, I've read only the first one.

  20. I still haven't read any of my Pratchett books. I need to do so soon because I don't know how his writing style is like...

  21. I think the most attractive thing about these novels are the covers, seriously I bought witches aboard just because of the cover :)

    I'm still not sure about this series though, I guess I need to already make a head start with the first book.

  22. I'm going to make a horrible admission. I haven't read Pratchett yet! I know! How does that even happen? I have Nation waiting for me, as well as Good Omens, and a good friend of mine insists I read Wee Three Men (is that right?). So yeah, this one is on the radar, among many others. :)

  23. I really like the excerpt you included, it provides insight into a story line I might not have been interested in. Of course, Pratchett's wisdom and humor are also a recommendation. :)

  24. I promised myself I would read atleast 5 Discworld novels by the year-end, and I haven't even started on one. I'm terrible, am I not?

  25. Hopefully before the year is out I will be able to tell you that I've read Pratchett!!

  26. I can't wait to read this (and the other Pratchett books on my backburner, Nation included, hahaha)!

    The Luggage is back! The Luggage is back! The Luggage is back!

  27. "Well, yes, but it’s not about the football.’
    ‘You’re saying that football is not about football?’
    Glenda wished she’d had a proper education, or, failing that, any real education at all. But she was not going to back off now. ‘It’s the sharing,’ she said. ‘It’s being part of the crowd. It’s chanting together. It’s all of it. The whole thing.’"

    oh this quote reminds so much of a movie I loved, "Looking for Eric" by Ken loach. I don't love football either,but this movie made me understand why people love it so much, or at least one of the reason. It's not just about the game. if you haven't seen it, I recommend it!:)

    back to the point, the book sounds like a lot of fun, and now that I have started getting into the Discworld series, I wonder how long before I will have read them all! (although people keep telling me that his adult ones are not as good as his kids' ones...)

  28. Great review! I just got my first Terry Pratchett book from the library - Th Colour of Magic - and can't wait to get to it :-)

  29. Why, oh why, have I not revisited Discworld?!!! Because I'm an idiot. With too little time.

    One thing I really need to do is get Rich to start reading them, because I absolutely, positively KNOW he will love them...and that means he will buy them all, and I won't even have to break my buying ban. ;)

  30. Claire: thank you, but I think you did a great job too! That line was fantastic, yes :D

    Zee: I hope you enjoy it!

    Madeleine, you're most welcome :)

    Jodie: I always glare at people who say that :P

    Lezlie: lol! Yep, it is. And I have sad news: there's one brief mention of The Luggage, but no actual appearance :(

    S. Krishna: I hope you do! He's my favourite author along with Neil Gaiman :D

    Kiirstin: You will! And lol, the pie analogy is PERFECT for this book :D You'll see why when you get to it :P

    Aarti, looking forward to you review!

    Terri B: lol, it was HARD, though!

    Kathy, I meant football in the British sense, so soccer for you guys :P

    Cara: lol, she is! And I loved your review too :)

    Vivienne: I promise it's not *about* football, though! :P

    Charley: Aw, I'm sorry to hear it :( Maybe you could try one of his YA ones? They're great starting points!

    Vasilly, thank you!

    Bart: But i'll be so worth the wait :D

  31. Jill: You know you want to read him :P I promise there's more where that came from!

    Zibilee: The thing is, I'm not sure if I'd recommend reading them in publication order, because the first few are SO much weaker than the rest of the series! This reading order guide will be helpful: http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/

    ds: They are wonderful characters! The strength of the characterization is one of the main reasons why Pratchett is one of my very favourite authors.

    Beth: They get so much better after that!

    Alice: It's both hilarious and wise, you'll see :D

    Violet: I love the covers too, but I have to say that what's inside is EVEN better :D

    Andi: The Wee Free Men - one of my favourites, and a great introduction to Discworld :D Nation, though not part of the series, would also be a wonderful introduction to Pratchett.

    Jenclair: I might have shied away too if this wasn't Terry Pratchett - bad me! This ought to show me :P

    Hazra: Well, you still have two months :P

    Staci, I hope so! :P

    Lightheaded: Sadly, The Luggage is not back :( Sorry! But it's still an awesome book.

    Valentina: I disagree they're not as good, but you know I'm a wee bit biased :P And thank you for recommending "Looking for Eric"!

    Arielle: As I was telling Zibilee and Beth, the series gets SO much better after those first few books! So if you're not too impressed, please don't give up :P

    Debi: You are not an idiot! But yes, read more of them, and make Rich read them too :D

  32. Finally I get around to reading this one (for some odd reason I just like reading the paperback versions of Pratchett's books. Means I'm often a year behind though :( )

    This is not my favourite Discworld book, not enough Sam Vimes, but it still a great read. I think that the pie/pizza/cheesecake analagies *all* work! Any Pratchett is good Pratchett :)

  33. I'm a big fan of Terry Pratchett but I haven't got to read this one...


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.