Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thursday Next Series - Jasper Fforde

First I would like to whine about the fact that I am sick. In July! Goodness knows I get enough colds during the rest of the year, but summer is supposed to be the one season I can count on not to get sick. And I am laying the blame squarely at my sister's feet: K, this is all your fault. Keep you cursed germs to yourself next time.

But I do want to talk about this fabulous new series I'm reading. ypk blogged about it a while ago on Speak Friend, and Enter, but I hadn't gotten around to it. So I finally did, and it's brilliant. It's the kind of novel, that if you're a writer, throws you into the depths of despair, because you know that in a million years you'll never be able to write anything half as good.

The series is a weird kind of melding of science fiction / fantasy / crime novel. The main protagonist is a woman named Thursday Next. She lives in England in the mid-1980s, in a world that is similar to our own, but with a few major differences. For example, the Crimean War is still going on, the Germans actually managed to invade England for a brief time in the Second World War, and Wales is still a separate country from England. Those are just the historical differences though. It gets weirder. The entire country is run by a massive corporation called Goliath, and Thursday Next works as a LiteraTec (Literary Detective) in SpecOps (Special Operations), which is an organization under Goliath that handles investigations that are too much for the regular police force. Among other things, SpecOps is in charge of dispatching vampires, zombies, and other deadly creatures of the night.

In the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, the original manuscript to Jane Eyre has been stolen, and someone is attempting to alter the manuscript, which would therefore alter all copies of the story for good. Thursday discovers that she has a talent for jumping into books, and so she goes into the story to save it. I actually had to stop in the middle of reading this book and go and read Jane Eyre (which by the way, if you haven't done, do it. It's quite good for one of those 19th century novels), because I was really missing out on all the plot references. Anyway, Thursday discovers that there's a whole other world where the characters from all the novels interact freely. And because of her ability to read herself into books, she gets drafted as a JurisFiction agent, charged with policing the Book World.

Besides being crime thrillers, the books are also very funny. There are numerous allusions to other classic novels (For Example, Miss Havisham from Great Expectations has a penchant for fast cars and often gets together with Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows for a race), and the author has a lot of fun with the conventions of plot and grammar, etc. I shall now share a quotation (the same one which ypk originally blogged) which amply demonstrates the sort of clever silliness that I'm talking about. JurisFiction (the organization that polices the Book World) is meeting to discuss several problems on the agenda:
'Good. Item seven. The had had and that that problem. Lady Cavendish, weren't you working on this?'

Lady Cavendish stood up and gathered her thoughts.

'Indeed. The use of had had and that that has to be strictly controlled; they can interrupt the ImaginoTransference quite dramatically, causing readers to go back over the sentence in confusion, something we try to avoid.'

'Go on.'

'It's mostly an unlicensed usage problem. At the last count David Copperfield alone had had had had only thrice. Increased had had usage had had to be overlooked but not if the number exceeds that that that usage.'

'Hmm,' said the Bellman. 'I thought had had had had TGC's approval for use in Dickens? What's the problem?'

'Take the first had had and that that in the book by way of example,' explained Lady Cavendish. 'You would have thought that that first had had had had good occassion to be seen as had, had you not? Had had had approval but had had had not; equally it is true to say that that that that had had approval but that that other that that had not.'

'So the problem with that other that that was that --?

'That that other -other that that had had approval.'

'Okay,' said the Bellman, whose head was in danger of falling apart like a chocolate orange, 'let me get this straight: David Copperfield, unlike Pilgrim's Progress, which had had had, had had had had. Had had had had TGC's approval?'

There was a very long pause.

'Right,' said the Bellman with a sigh. 'That's it for the moment. I'll be giving out assignments in ten minutes. Session's over -- and let's be careful out there.' (p 256-7)

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