This is the third in the Thursday Next series. I read the first two before I started the blog, and although I had high hopes of writing up my thoughts on those books, I think we can safely say that it is probably never going to happen. I am having trouble keeping up the blog with what I am currently reading. I do have some excuses, but they are not very good ones, so I am just going to get on with the writing. I have four more to get down on pixels, and I have an I Want to Read This One Absolutely NEXT list that is growing alarmingly fast. I used to worry about living long enough to read everything on my To Read List. Now I worry about living long enough to read everything on my I Want to Read This One Absolutely NEXT list.
Jasper Fforde is a truly gifted writer. He is clever, funny, and has an imagination that stretches into the infinite mists. His style is somewhat like that of Terry Pratchett, the writing is serious, but the word play and the situations are really funny.
The Thursday Next series is a series of comic fantasy, alternate history mystery novels about a young woman named, what else, Thursday Next. For Americans, we would say, about a day in the following week, next Thursday, but of course, the British use the expression, Thursday next for that, so her name has more ummmm cachet for the folks across the pond. The first series is made up of the novels The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten. There is a second collection, consisting of First Among Sequels, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, and The Woman Who Died a Lot.
In this parallel universe, England is a republic, with George Formby as its first president, elected following the success of Operation Sea Lion (the mooted Nazi invasion of Great Britain), occupation, and liberation. There is no United Kingdom, and Wales is the independent “Socialist Republic of Wales”. The Crimean War is still being waged in 1985, Russia still has a Czar, and the Whig Party still exists in the House of Commons.
Genetic engineering is far more advanced than in our own timeline, and so Thursday has a pet dodo, Pickwick. Re-engineered mammoths can cause damage to local gardens if in their path, and there is a Neanderthal rights movement, given the resurrection of this kindred branch of human evolution. Interestingly, the duck is extinct in this universe. Computer and aviation technology are far behind our own timeline, with the transistor having never been invented (computers are still massive and run on vacuum tubes) and research into the jet engine unfunded as propeller and dirigible technology are viewed as ‘good enough’.
The line between literature and reality is quite thin, allowing characters in the books and those in ‘real life’ to jump in and out of novels. This leads Thursday to change the ending of Jane Eyre, the joke being that the plot we know in our reality is the far superior change caused by Thursday. This also happens to other classic novels: Uriah Heep becomes the obsequious, and generally insincere character we know, due to an accident inside the book world, and Thursday’s uncle Mycroft becomes Sherlock Holmes’s brother.
In this world, the characters in novels are self-aware, knowing they are in a book. They make comments stating they are not needed until page ‘such and such,’ rather like actors in a play, and thus have time to help Thursday.
The world of fiction has its own police force – Jurisfiction – to ensure that plots in books continue to run smoothly with each reading. Thursday ends up hiding in a book, and working for Jurisfiction. The book Caversham Heights that features in The Well of Lost Plots is a detective novel featuring Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sergeant, Mary Mary, (listed as Mary Jones in WOLP) who swaps with Thursday. Spratt and Mary get their own Fforde series, The Nursery Crime Division books, and appear in The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear featuring crimes against characters in classic children’s literature.
Ok, so that is a brief description of the series, lifted with no shame whatsoever on my part directly from Wikipedia.
From this volume, The Well of Lost Plots, we have a character named Harris Tweed, and a fine description of a Grammasite:
Generic term for a parasitic life-form that lives inside books and feeds on grammar. Technically known as Gerunds or Ingers, they were an early attempt to transform nouns (which were plentiful) into verbs (which at the time were not) by simply attaching an ing. A dismal failure at verb resource management, they escaped from captivity and now roam freely in the subbasements.
[I would like to add that grammasites can be seen in the wilds of Facebook on posts such as “I am wanting to find a copy of xxxxx….” “My son is wanting to travel to Barcelona. Does anyone have any hotel recommendations?”]
We learn that
The twentieth century has seen books being written and published at an unprecedented rate — even the introduction of the Procrastination 1.3 and Writer’s-Block 2.4 Outland viruses couldn’t slow the authors down. Authors are beginning to write the same books. There is maybe a year, possibly eighteen months, before the well of fiction runs dry.
We learn of UltraWord™, which Text Grand Central, the final arbitrators of plot, setting, and other story elements,will release BOOK version 9, code-named UltraWord. UltraWord is touted at a JurisFiction meeting as the greatest advance “since the invention of movable type” because it creates a thirty-two plot story system and allows the reader to control the story. However, it has its drawbacks — it makes books impossible to read more than three times, thus rendering libraries and second-hand bookstores useless, and the quality of the writing is also substantively poorer.
There are all kinds of threads and twists, and it is all too complicated to tell you all of it, but if you are a Terry Pratchett fan, and a book fan, it is a good bet you will enjoy Fforde and his cast of lovely characters.