Thursday Next, heroine of Jasper Fforde's engaging book world series that started with The Eyre Affair, returns in this novel, set 14 years after the last novel, Something Rotten.
The Eyre Affair is one of my favorite books. It is so over-the-top creative and unusual that it is difficult to describe. Set in an alternate version of England (in which the Crimean war is still ongoing), and Thursday Next is a member of the literary division of the police. In that novel, Thursday's eccentric uncle has invented a way to enter novels. If something changes in that novel, the book is changed, of course - but if someone enters the original manuscript, then every book all over the world changes. So the villain enters the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps Jane, and all kinds of complicated, hilarious literary havoc ensues.
The only downside of these books is that if you haven't read many classics, you will miss a lot of the humor. As an English major, though, I found myself in my element. Thursday's mentor in the book world (where books are made, of course, and characters live in - and out of - the pages of their books) is none other than Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations), and she is a maniac behind the wheel of a car! The book world abounds with characters from all sorts of novels, from the Cheshire Cat and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle to the entire cast of Pride and Prejudice. Fforde is an expert on complex world building, and even though my head spins sometimes at the explanations about how it all works, it still makes bizarre sense.
In this fifth book in the series, Thursday has settled into her life as wife and mother of three children, sullen teenage Friday (last seen as a toddler), a math genius daughter, and another daughter who is strangely absent during the narrative. But troubles abound, both in the real world and the book world. In the real world, her son Friday stubbornly refuses to join the ChronoGuard, the time travel force, even though it is through his joining up that, according to sources from the future, he is able to save the world. Instead, he sleeps till early afternoon, gets suspended from school, and plays in a garage band. Things are even worse in the book world - reader rates are inexplicably dropping, Sherlock Holmes has been murdered, and all the hilarity has inexplicably vanished from the novels of Thomas Hardy.
I enjoyed this installment in the series, but at times it seemed as though Fforde just had to fit in every interesting quirky detail and joke he could think of, even if it sometimes sidetracked the narrative - especially at the beginning of the novel. But in the end I had to forgive him, because those details were so fascinating and the jokes too, too funny. Now if only I could figure out how to jump into the book world - I know where I'd go for my next vacation!
First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (Viking, 2007)