On the back cover, Patience is given the subtitle, “a cosmic timewarp deahttop to the primordial of infinite love”.
To which, I might expand: an anxious, obsessive suicide mission splattered across time, vivid with elemental injustice, powered by gloriously unexplainable impossible-improbable technology and revenge, populated by fatally-flawed heroes, illustrated with raw conviction, oddly unputdownable trip towards a Hollywood happy ending that remains characteristically unsettling.
Revisiting books you read as a child / teenager is always strange. Mort is the fourth book in the Discworld series and I was probably about twelve when I read this for the first time. The idea of Death looking to employ an apprentice is a trademark Pratchett conceit and he sets it up and then sets off on an adventure. The ensuing story is not as rich as later Discworld novels – Pratchett definitely became a more ambitious and complex storyteller as time went on. But the playful tone, the patter of dialogue, the jokes and wry observations are all as artfully realised as ever, and throughout this surprisingly short book (surely it’s lost a hundred pages in the last 20 years – I remember it being longer) it is clear that the author is enjoying writing.
At times, I wasn’t sure whether this book was supposed to be a novel or a collection of short stories strung together by an ongoing narrative. But I think part of the point of it is that it doesn’t have to decide one way or the other.
The late-teen narrator Araceli and her neighbour, a writer named Alba Cambo, are the twin drivers of the narrative and perhaps the books flighty nature can be ascribed to the teenage protaganist. We hear stories told by various characters connected to these two, stories that would seem to function as standalone pieces. There is also a short story by Alba Cambo, and some tales from Araceli’s time attending a college for translators. These various stories are interconnected, but they certainly do not come together towards a cohesive ending. They also all share a sense of unease, a smidgen of macabre and comic despair.
Wolff delivers all this with enough charm and wit to carry it off, and it ends up being a great advert for work not being mangled in to a more acceptable shape, and just being allowed to be what it is supposed to be.