Friday, August 3, 2018

Forgotten Books: THE THURSDAY NEXT SERIES by Jasper Fforde (2001-2012)

For the past couple of years I’ve been working my way through this series, and recently finished the seventh and last (to date) installment, The Woman Who Died a Lot.

I was hesitant in trying to explain what this series is all about, because even the most basic description is likely to make me sound batshit crazy. But since you probably already think (or know) that I’m insane, I decided to give it a shot.

First off, you have to know that for this to make any kind of sense, you have to start at the beginning. That’s The Eyre Affair, published back in 2001. It takes place in Wessex, England in a similar but generally wacked-out universe. Among the differences, not they’re really essential to the plot, are that Neanderthals have been cloned, and now function among the general population, that vampires, werewolves and what-have-you are real and must be hunted down when they get out of line, and that people are obsessed with toast and black market cheese. 

More germane to the plot are the facts that time travel is possible, that all facets of existence are pretty much under the thumb of the multi-national Goliath Corporation, that all religions have converged into belief in a General Standard Deity, and that a meteor is hurtling in the general direction of Earth, expected to arrive thirty-some years in the future. But at least in this first book, all that stuff is pretty much by-the-way, and the important thing is that everyone reads and is wildly passionate about one sort of literature or another.  Didn’t I tell you it was insane?

Thursday Next is a minor agent in a minor division of the multi-layered SpecOps Bureau, an agency need to keep all the aforementioned stuff, including literature, from going off the rails. In The Eyre Affair, Thursday learns of the existence of a Book World, sort of an extra dimension in which everything (and every character) ever written carries on a life of its own. By some crazy means or another, Thursday finds her way into the Book World, and Jane Eyre in particular, where she is unable to resist changing the ending. This makes her a hero to some and villain to others, and carries her into the next book, where she goes much deeper into the Book World.

From there on, things just get nuttier. Some books are light on plot, with heavy sprinklings of humor. Others are heavy on humor, with light sprinklings of plot. You won’t care which. You’ll be having too much fun.

In Lost in a Good Book (2002) we meet Thursday’s father, a time-travelling agent of the ChronoGuard, and her mad scientist Uncle Mycroft. Thursday spends some time in Great Expectations and Kafka’s The Trial while working as an apprentice of Jurisfiction, the Book World’s own policing arm, goes chasing after a lost play of Shakespeare, and helps her father prevent the destruction of the real world.

In The Well of Lost Plots (2003), we enter a special area of the Book World devoted to unpublished manuscripts. While living inside an unpublished detective novel, Thursday become head of Jurisfiction and battles to save the Book World from destruction.

Something Rotten (2004) gets even crazier, as characters (such as Hamlet) start crossing into the real world and more real people make trouble in the Book World. In First Among Sequels (2007), Thursday meets and gets pains in the neck from fictional versions of herself. In One of Our Thursdays is Missing (2011), one of those fictional Thursdays takes the stage, searching for the real Thursday. 

Finally, in The Woman Who Died a Lot (2012), she tries to avoid her home town being smited by the Almighty (He has now revealed himself and is getting serious about sin) and avoid the world’s destruction by that meteor mentioned back in paragraph four. Meanwhile, folks are searching for a way into (and plotting nefarious uses of) the Dark Reading Matter—another extra dimension populated by unwritten stories, lost books and imaginary childhood friends.

That last novel ends with Thursday planning a visit to the Dark Reading Matter. On his website, Jasper Fforde says that will be the title of the next Thursday Next book, which he hopes to start writing a couple of years from now. Hope that’s true. Meanwhile, I’ll soon be beginning the journey again, with a second reading of The Eyre Affair. Didn't I tell you I was insane?


Rick Robinson said...

Though I've heard a lot about these, and read some other reviews, I have yet to try one. One of these days... Thanks for this review, I enjoyed it a lot.

Oscar Case said...

Nice covers, nice explanation, nice post, nice reading (although I haven't), and have a nice weekend out of the zone (maybe).

Cap'n Bob said...

I read the first two or three and stopped, perhaps because I wasn't enjoying the sequels as much as the first one. I laud you for being able to explain them in capsule form.

Yvette said...

Absolutely love, love, LOVE this series, Evan. Thanks for writing about them. And I must say that even if you begin at the very beginning, you might still have trouble figuring out what's what. I know I did. Maybe it's time for a reread. I think WELL OF LOST PLOTS and SOMETHING ROTTEN (Hamlet on the run and staying at - if I'm remembering correctly - Thursday Next's house?) were my favorites, but I could be wrong. There was only one I didn't like much, but I can't remember which one. Jasper Fforde has a dazzling imagination.

Have you read Fforde's SHADES OF GREY? A book which,deserved a series, but Fforde seems to have abandoned it. I loved it even if it also made little actual sense.

How about OVER EASY and THE FOURTH BEAR? Definitely a series by Fforde which should also have been continued. So hilarious.