Terry Pratchett’s Making Money is the thirty sixth Discworld novel, and the second to feature Moist von Lipwig as its hero. Traditionalists will point out that Moist is not very heroic. In fact, he is a conman. Then again, in a city led by an assassin, perhaps a conman is the perfect candidate to run an institution like the Post Office. That was the premise of Going Postal, which introduced us to Moist. Although Moist’s struggle to save the post from the crooked Grand Trunk Company was surprisingly adventurous, he finds that the post office has become a bit dull after a year of smooth operation.
So we might expect Moist to be thrilled when Lord Vetinari, Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, offers the Postmaster the chance to take over the city’s bank and mint. Surprisingly, Moist is reluctant to trust the city’s top politician, but, as we all know, Moist will end up in charge of the bank.
Vetinari needs the bank and the mint to be reformed so that he can borrow enough money to start building an underground railway for Ankh-Morpork. The modernization of the bank is inhibited by the wealthy Lavish family, the bank’s shareholders, who feel that the bank’s purpose is to keep them wealthy. Vetinari, however, requires the bank to lend money, and so he sets Moist on a course to introduce paper currency and to go off the gold standard. The decision shocks the bankers, and it is also complicated by the coming arrival of an army of golden golems. Finally, although many might think a conman to be the perfect candidate for running a bank, Moist’s post is threatened when someone realizes that Moist was hanged for being a conman.
Making Money is a DISCWORLD novel, so Pratchett fans are sure to find moments that they enjoy, but I found the story disappointing compared to Going Postal. Though Pratchett toys with a more ribald humor than I’ve encountered in previous DISCWORLD novels, Making Money left me laughing less often than expected. Perhaps stereotypes about bankers are simply not as funny as those about postal workers. That is certainly the opinion of Mr. Bent, the bank’s most trusted employee. Unfortunately, I found myself missing Moist’s supporting cast of postal workers. Even by the end of the novel Mr. Bent was just not very funny compared to Stanley the Pinhead.
The plot of Making Money is also less compelling, which surprised me. Moist is a likable hero, and his novels prominently feature Lord Vetinari, one of my favorite DISCWORLD characters. However, the two of them seem to add up to a fairly predictable premise: Ankh-Morpork is entering the modern world and these two will team up against the conservative and wealthy to usher it in. Even in the early stages of Making Money, it seemed that Pratchett was consciously trying to keep the plot from mirroring Going Postal too closely. The arrangement by which Moist winds up in charge of the bank, though funny, seemed contrived to avoid simply having Vetinari assign Moist to the bank. Still, even a formulaic or self-conscious DISCWORLD novel is worth a read.
Making Money was released in 2007, so I went into this novel expecting something prophetic. Perhaps I should not have, given that Pratchett’s novels are not very topical. However, I couldn’t shake Pratchett’s claim in an interview with Neil Gaiman in which he said he was “very pleased when Making Money came out just before the banking crisis and everyone said I had predicted it. It was hardly difficult.” I found this claim too self-congratulatory. If the novel does speak to the banking crisis, it only does so broadly. I detected no allegorical mention of credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, or subprime mortgages. There aren’t even predatory lenders. Instead, the novel asks readers to consider where money’s value comes from. Pratchett’s more foundational treatment of money will likely allow Making Money more longevity, but its timing seems coincidental rather than prophetic.
Pratchett’s Making Money is, of course, required reading for long time fans, but it is not a good place for new readers to enter the series.
I listened to Harper Audio’s production of Making Money. Stephen Briggs once again lent his voice to the reading. Briggs’ performance is excellent, and I was particularly impressed by his reading of Cosmo Lavish, a man who aspires to become Lord Vetinari. Briggs not only manages to pull off Vetinari, but he also does a fine job of impersonating his performance of Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician.