Thursday, August 16, 2007

Something Rotten

Jasper Fforde launched a memorable and quirky series when he wrote The Eyre Affair, starring Thursday Next, a Literary Detective who saves Jane Eyre from a kidnapper, and introduces a peculiar world in which the lines between reality and fiction are blurred if not invisible. Thursday's adventures continued with Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, and most recently, First Among Sequels.

I was psyched to read the newest, but thought I'd better refresh my memory of where we last saw Our Heroine, so I reread Something Rotten, and it's a good thing I did. I had completely forgotten how it all went, so I'm reviewing this book instead of First Among Sequels.

In this, the fourth of the series, Thursday Next is coming out of the book world, where she has been in charge of Jurisfiction (the organization that polices fiction from within) to renew her search for her husband Landen Parke-Laine, who has been eradicated, and to make sure her son Friday, age 2, knows how to live in the real world. Her adventures feature an assassin called the Windowmaker, a disturbingly infallible monk named St. Zvlkx, and an apocalyptic professional croquet match, as well as coworkers such as Bowden Cable, Victor Analogy, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Emperor Zhark, and the enemy du jour Yorrick Kaine.

Good things: The plot advances more than I remember. Certain questions about Landen, Friday, and Granny Next are neatly resolved, and it becomes clear that, the Chronoguards being the time travelers that they are, just because a character dies doesn't mean they actually leave the series. Thursday's father died in an earlier book, but hey, that's in a far distant future, and he's free to keep wandering in and out of this timeline for the rest of our natural lives. Fforde's world has an endearing charm that has carried it this far, and his ingenious working of literary references into action/adventure can be beguiling.

Bad things: I would like to say that Fforde is in ffine fforme (there, I said it), but I don't really mean it. I loved the first book, but each subsequent book adds to the insanity. In Something Rotten, reality slips away completely from time to time, like Alice going Through The Looking Glass--from the starting point of Wonderland--after having had one too many tokes from the hookah--and it's hard to keep the story line(s) straight. Like, were the Neanderthals playing croquet just for Thursday, or did it have something to do with the Shakespeare clones in Area 21? In addition, Fforde's wry commentary on government and bureaucracy brings the story to a standstill at times. I thought for while that I would just have to close the book and walk away before my brain exploded, but I managed to hold things together until the end, at which I was relieved to find all the story lines tied up into a nice tidy package, without a loose end in sight. But I'm still going to wait a while, until my head recovers, before I read First Among Sequels.

So, my recommendation? If the idea intrigues you, read The Eyre Affair. With suitable intervals between, continue the series until you get tired of it.

Or until your head explodes.


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