In the 1870s, a tidal wave sweeps through the South Pacific. Mau is the only person left alive of his island Nation, and Daphne is the only person left alive on a British ship, conveniently wrecked on the same island. The two must stay alive, deal with their traumas, figure out what the Rules — of life, or society — are when no one else is alive to obey them, and, eventually, hold together the group of survivors that coalesces as, one by one, those who survived the wave find the ocean.
I haven’t read much Pratchett, but Nation adds fodder to my suspicion that I like his books when they’re silly and am frustrated by them when they’re dealing with serious issues. Nation is dealing with serious issues: grief, trauma, adulthood/life transitions/coming of age, independence, the existence of evil and the crisis of faith that can come after a disaster. This last is probably the main focus of the book, and probably my largest frustration. I felt like I was being hit over the head with Mau’s lost faith. To be fair, Mau probably felt like he was being hit over the head by his sudden disbelief in the gods, or at least their goodness, but it still made me want to skim instead of read. Worse, Mau has supernatural experiences and makes no attempt to reconcile them with his belief or disbelief in the gods. There is no questioning of these experiences, no looking at them in relationship to the existence or nonexistence of gods (or vice versa). Mau’s personality and his ability to doubt the gods is explained by a childhood inquisitiveness, a habit of asking difficult questions, and yet he inexplicably stops asking those questions.
“But wait! You mentioned another main character,” I hear you say. “What about this Daphne?” What about her? She seems to exist to prompt events more than to be a character. Actually, most of the women fit that description; they’re there, they occasionally do important stuff, but really, it’s about men trying to define and control their world. Plot-wise, I can partly excuse this as a reflection of both nineteenth-century British society and the Nation’s society; both are largely homosocial and patriarchal. Characterization-wise, it’s hard to excuse.
And the epilogue has one of the worst cases of Profundity Syndrome I’ve ever seen.
Nation (Google Books) ~