15 September 2011

Books: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde (2011)

In most ongoing series, if the author does not change things enough, the series has a tendency to become bogged down in too much ennui, Piers Anthony Xanth novels as an example. On the other hand, too much change can lead to fans abandoning the series, like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series which introduced too many character’s that took over for the main ones of the earlier books.

Japer Fforde, it appears, is trying to keep his ideas from getting too boring by shuffling the deck from time to time. In the fourth book of the Thursday Next series, he jumped ahead two years, from alternate 1985 to 1987. In the fifth book, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, he moves even further in time, to 2002. Now in the sixth novel, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, he shifts from the first person narration of our hero to the “written” version of our hero.

The BookWorld has undergone a transformation from Great Library format to a Geographic format. Sounding like a theoretical version of a Dyson Sphere, the BookWorld now has all the forms of writing organized into clusters of islands that are divided into genres. Related genres are located near to each other and trade text, plot devices, metaphors and so on. All is not well, however, with a genre war about to erupt. Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next is due to chair peace talks in a week’s time only she has vanished in suspicious circumstances. Worried about the consequences of the impending battle Jurisfiction turns to the written Thursday Next who is living in a small corner of speculative fiction, maintaining her five book series and trying to keep her readers and fellow characters happy. She is asked to investigate the mysterious break-up of a vanity book that was being transported across BookWorld, leaving a trail of narrative debris in its wake. Soon the Men in Plaid, agents of the Council of Genres, are trailing after her, her understudy is upstaging her, and her Designated Love Interest is revealed to have a murderous back story. Written Thursday has to live up to the reputation of her real world counterpart and save the day or risk being erased from the BookWorld.

What Fforde has done, by changing the personality of Thursday, yet still have Thursday narrate the tale, thus not changing the perspective of the series, is rather brilliant. It’s the same Thursday, really, but very different one at that. In some ways, this Thursday is like how Doctor Who changes the Doctor, different actor, but still the same Doctor. Confusing I know.

Fforde explains it better: “Oddly, I preferred Thursday when she was still unsure and afraid of the BookWorld. Where everything was dangerous and perplexing and death, disaster, danger and mayhem lurked at every corner. The Thursday we saw in First Among Sequels felt a bit too superhuman and a bit world-weary so I wanted to get back to a Thursday who had more problems than experience. The written Thursday fits the bill perfectly.”

The series continues its puns (a hotel called Inn Uendo), its take on all the genres of the written word (poking fun at Photography, where B&W and Color remain bitterly divided and others) and what it means to live in a world where everything has a purpose, where nothing’s meaningless. Fforde also gives the written Thursday a chance to visit the RealWorld and gives the reader a new way to look at our lives.

The only issue I have, is perhaps small, but shows while Ffords creativeness appears to have no boundaries, he has a tendency to get bogged down it as well, which effectively makes the novel less I-need-to-turn-the-page-to-find-out-what-happens-next. But your still astounded at his cleverness, how me makes reading, its concepts as such, more enjoyable. As a matter of fact, I would say that anyone who wants to study literature, but does not understand those concepts, might actually learn something.

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