Friday, October 5, 2007

Thursday Next returns in First Among Sequels

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)

4 comments:

  1. My copy arrived yesterday. I like this series a lot, but I've found it's best to leave some time in between each book.

    What happened to the 14 years?! I don't know how I feel about that much time passing. I noticed you didn't mention the husband. What does that mean...?

    So if you could read yourself into a book, which one would it be? Where, exactly, would you go on vacation? I'd like to know.

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  2. I didn't want to ruin things for anyone who hasn't read the series, so I was trying to be a bit vague! I was a little taken aback by the passage of time, too, but it didn't seem to matter much once I got into the narrative. And I totally agree about leaving space between reading these books - it definitely makes me appreciate them more.

    Hmmm...where would I go? That's a hard one - where WOULDN'T I go is more like it. Maybe I'd start with Narnia. Or go on a sea voyage with Bloody Jack (I love that series!). Definitely to Charles de Lint's Newford. Dickens' London. Austen's country houses. Ack! I'd better stop before I get depressed that I can't really get into the book world!

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  3. Sounds good! I've read something like that when I was younger about this girl who gets this mgaical bookmark and goes into books and has a tea party with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland and takes Pip from Little Women so he doesn't have to die. I'm no entirely sure what it was called though.

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  4. Oh, that book does sound good! Let me know if you remember the title (or anyone else does).

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