Inspired by Lewis Carroll among others, Jasper Fforde has written a most outrageous fantasy full of impossible events, which are somehow given credibility by a likeable 35-year-old heroine who takes it all seriously. For a quick summary of the story, I don't think I can improve on the blurb on the back cover, so I'll quote it at you.
There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where Thursday Next is a literary detective without equal, fear, or boyfriend. Thursday is on the trail of the villainous Acheron Hades who has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre herself has been plucked from the novel of the same name, and Thursday must find a way into the book to repair the damage.
She also has to find time to halt the Crimean conflict, persuade the man she loves to marry her, rescue her aunt from inside a Wordsworth poem and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare's plays. Aided and abetted by a cast of characters that includes her time-travelling father, Jack Schitt of the all-powerful Goliath Corporation, a pet dodo named Pickwick and Edward Rochester himself, Thursday embarks on an adventure that will take your breath away.
The blurb doesn't mention that this is a very British story, set in exotic locations such as Swindon and Merthyr Tydfil.
In general I really like the book (which I first read in 2002), but I can't give it full marks for characterization. We come to know Thursday Next quite well, and she's well drawn, but most of the other characters are either too simple or too nondescript. The baddies are simply bad all the way through, which I don't really like in fiction. Real people have aspects to them that surprise, they can't be so quickly summarized.
About halfway through, in Chapter 18, there's an amusing interlude in which Shakespeare's play Richard III is performed in the style of a pantomime, with audience participation.
Richard opened his mouth to speak and the whole audience erupted in unison:
‘When is the winter of our discontent?’
‘Now,’ replied Richard with a cruel smile, ‘is the winter of our discontent...’
There are now several sequels to this first novel, all recommended.
Written in March 2007