by Jasper Fforde
Hodder and Stoughton, 2001
I laughed hysterically while reading this book, yet I am still trying to decide if I like it.
Fforde presents an alternative version of 1985 Britain in which weird and wacky are the world’s bread and butter. Still locked in the Crimean War with Imperial Russia, Britain is a police-state in which literature and art are closely regulated and play a volatile role (mobs and riots occur over clashes of literary interpretation). Cloned dodos are the pets of choice, the occasional vampire hunts for prey, and history is not immune to change.
Through this world a purely evil villain with mysterious power runs amok, pursued by an intrepid LiteraTec named Thursday Next. Thursday is a weary and somewhat jaded police detective who is nevertheless heroic under fire when necessary. She ultimately follows the villain into the pages of Bronte’s original Jane Eyre manuscript in an attempt to rescue both the novel itself and her kidnapped aunt and uncle.
Is this book well-crafted? It is certainly original, outrageous, and defies the bounds of genre. Absurdities and oddities abound. Even the names are jokes: the character called Jack Schitt is not a pleasant man, and the one called Braxton Hicks is not an effectual man. If one were inclined to be picky, it might be pointed out that most key events in the story occur simply because they are necessary to the plot, not because they flow naturally from the plot. However, the question that really bothers me is this: does Fforde’s wacky use of English literature (in which random chance is the real force behind some of our most beloved classics) display a fondness for those books, or instead an existential disregard for the premise that an author’s intentions provide meaning to their book? Is Fforde on the side of the deconstructionists? Perhaps I have no right to ask such a question of a book that so obviously does not take itself seriously, but the question came unbidden and lingers in my mind. I would love to hear what other, literature-loving readers have to say on this. Therefore, I highly recommend it to all of them.