Fun stuff. That’s what it is. Read it. You’ll like it. Promise. Unless you’re one of those stodgy “I don’t read anything unless it has some sort of Empirical Value’ type people but I doubt that you are or you wouldn’t be here, reading this. If you are one of those people, then I don’t know what to say. Go away would be a good start. I don’t do stodgy. Or at least I try not to. Sometimes stodginess happens accidentally, as we all know, but I try to batten it down whenever it comes loose.
But seriously. I know, I know. Why read a book review if it doesn’t have any meat to it. Well, really – you shouldn’t. You should be reading books and deciding such things for yourself as I am not the arbiter of good taste. Not by a very very long shot. And speaking of shooting – if you happen to encounter that arbiter please shoot him or her. For the sake of everyone.
Usually I hate derivative literature with the sort of burning passion one tries to reserve for a column of Nazi’s walking down the street or green beans on the dinner plate but this one I happily tolerated mainly because it doesn’t have a derivative bone in its pages. Which is a good thing as bones don’t make very good bookmarks. This fun little piece of fiction follows the plucky story of Thursday Next, a thirty something detective in the SO-27 division of Special Ops. She has recently had a run in with some very distressing characters, specifically one very distressing character, Acheron Hades. Hades has stolen the original manuscript of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit and is holding it for ransom in an alternate universe patrolled by Chronoguards (who monitor infractions dealing with time) Vampire and Werewolf Cops (who are woefully underfunded and slightly insane) and of course Literary Detectives who mostly monitor knock off editions of Byron, claims of forgery, and any infractions that might deal with the printed page.
Next’s world is populated by reengineered Dodo’s (who make great pets), Reengineered Neanderthals who are more or less sadly lost in time, and speaking of time nonexistent fathers have a tendency to pop in at strange moments just to say hello while they are on the lamb from the Chronoguards. Add to that a missing manuscript, a strange invention that can drop people into the pages of fictional works, a fairly dull ending to Jane Eyre, and one diabolical master criminal and what you have is a head spinning wonder of a book that is easy on the eyes and relatively easy on the pocket and completely non-baconian in origin. Which is good. Those guys are loony. (read the book you’ll find out)
For something as fanciful as all that you might expect its author, Jasper Fforde, to be one of the flood of authors who come up with a good idea and then botch the sauce. The universe is littered with such authors, which include myself, so I know what I’m talking about. But he is quite surprisingly capable of pulling off a lovely line, a thoroughly nice paragraph, a whole page where the sentences feel like they have some sort of flow to them rather than the casserole of hot dogs and tater tots we’re used to in this sad age of letters. I’m not saying it’s always terrific but where it isn’t you probably won’t notice because it flows along at a nice brisk pace that you will probably miss any bumps in the road.
Next is a well wrought character. She’s got a bit of the edge of dangerous to her, which we all like so much, and yet her considerable displays of unbelievable bravery is tempered by her tenderness for her pet Dodo, Pickwick, her on again off again relationship with a former lover Landon, and her strained affection for her stuck in time father who has been eradicated but still shows up for birthdays and breakfast. She has a healthy relationship with violence, though you worry about it early on when she shoots an elderly woman in the back three times. But trust me. It all ends well. She’s smart and plucky and resourceful and all the things a great heroine ought to be and more so I think you’ll probably get along pretty well with her. Picture, I guess, the attractive version of your brilliant college literature teacher and then strap a gun on her hip and you’ll probably be about there. And how can anyone shake a stick at that?
Edward Rochester, well, we know all about him don’t we? And besides, I’m just teasing you. He’s a pretty minor character.
Acheron Hades is a very fun creation. Not since Edmund or Iago have we seen a villain so gleefully filled with his sense of evil. If there is one thing that Hades wants it is to move up the list from Third most violent criminal to first. Given his intense capacity for despicability you really have to worry about the other two on the list. You’ll love to hate Hades and I have to admit, in just a small way, you sort of root for him in the way you might root for… oh I don’t know someone who is really really evil but has a pretty clever scheme.
As I mentioned the dazzling permutations of this fun little novel will either leave you really annoyed or with a pleasant smile on your face. It may twist your brain around in a few knots but nothing that won’t eventually work itself out in fun little ways. It’s definitely worth the read – now stop bothering with this garbage and go get it.