Jasper Fforde

 

The Eyre Affair (2001)

(re-read) I discovered author Fforde one day in the 2000s after reading a brief biography of him in Parade magazine.  I was pleasantly surprised by his creative, fictional writing style.  In fact, the discovery of a new writing style is one of my favorite forms of entertainment.  If Joseph Heller mastered the deja-vu style with Catch-22; and if J.D. Salinger created the talk-like-a-juvenile style with Catcher in the Rye; and if Ken Kesey wowed me with the multiple-narrator style in Sometimes a Great Notion; then Fforde burst upon the scene in 2001 with the lost-in-a-good-book style of his Thursday Next series.   While I admit that I have not read a single Charlotte Bronte book, one would have to be almost illiterate to be unaware of the characters and style of Jane Eyre (1847) that have become embedded in English culture.

The first page of The Eyre Affair begins with a quote from historian "Millon De Floss" (not to be confused with The Mill on The Floss by Mary Ann Evans [aka George Eliot] - 1860) that references Special Operations departments including "Literature Detectives" and "ChronoGuard" in an odd bureaucracy of some alternate England.  These first mentions of SpecOps immediately reminded me of Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" which was created as the ultimate governmental non sequitur.  We also learn that the father of the narrator (Thursday Next) was a member of the ChronoGuard who had "gone rogue" and was now "at liberty" in opposition to the "bureaucrats within the Office for Special Temporal Stability."  OK, what is going on here?  The novel begins as a mystery wrapped within a world of speculative fiction.  By page 2 we learn that our narrator is a literary detective (whatever that is) fighting the big criminal gangs who were somehow profiting from fake literature.  And, she (Thursday) has a cloned pet dodo named Pickwick.  We do not know the year of this affair yet but, apparently, it is some future time when cloning has become commonplace.  Dodos have been extinct since 1662. 

Thursday's father stopped time one spring morning.  He could do that.  And he could travel through time.  Her father would visit Thursday in the present from time to time but was he usually occupied with French revisionists who were trying to change history.  When her father departed for his next adventure, the present time started again.  On page 6 we are introduced to the "Goliath Corporation" that seems to run just about everything including TNN (Toad News Network).  On page 7, TNN tells us that the date is May 6, 1985 but it is a much different "1985" than I remember since the Crimean War is still happening.  According to most history books, Russia lost that war to the Ottoman Empire in 1856.  In Chapter One, our protagonist reveals that she was a Crimean War veteran having served in 1973.

Chapter Two begins with the startling news that an 1842 manuscript by Charles Dickens (The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit) has been stolen.  This is the first time an important manuscript had been taken since such relics had been placed under bullet-proof glass and closely guarded.  TNT was quick to grab Detective Next for comment.  After the brief interview, Thursday began her investigation of the burglary.  There was no evidence found at the scene of the crime but the glass protecting the manuscript had a "shiny surface ripple."  The video surveillance camera showed that the book had been stolen within a 20-second interval.  This was going to be a difficult case. 

Toward the end of Chapter three, Thursday is offered an assignment transfer to SO-5 (Search & Containment) to locate Acheron Hades, an English lecturer who had become a noted career criminal.  This criminal is known for his powers of persuasion and the fact that no photographs have ever been taken of him.  Nobody in the department is allowed to speak the name because he has the ability to hear his own name within a one-thousand-yard radius.  Thursday Next was chosen for this assignment because she could recognize Hades, having seen him when "he was one of the lecturers when I studied English at Swindon in '68."

By Chapter four it is obvious that classic literature is more important and its fans are much more rabid in this timeline.  We encounter some young fans of Henry Fielding (1707-1754) who are swapping Fielding bubble-gum cards.  Later, a Baconian interrupts Thursday during a stake-out of the flat of Acheron's brother, Styx Hades.  This devotee of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) quickly unloads his belief in the conspiracy theory that it was Bacon and not Shakespeare who "had penned the greatest plays in the English language."  The Baconian also complained that the headquarters of his monthly gathering had recently been fire-bombed by "the radical wing of the New Marlovians" (fans of Christopher Marlowe, 1564-1593).  During the stake-out, Thursday's boss, Tamworth introduces the subject of the Bronte novel, Jane Eyre.  Tamworth mentioned the controversial ending of Jane Eyre and suggested that she re-read it.  At the end of this chapter, they get their first sighting of that fiend, Acheron Hades.

Thursday and Tamworth tried to capture Hades but he was too quick for them.  Hades shot and killed his brother, Styx and time traveler Filbert Snood; then, disguised as an old woman, he shot and killed Tamworth and escaped in Thursday's car after being confronted by her.  Although shot many times himself, Hades recovered and shot Thursday in the chest.  Fortunately, the bullet hit Thursday's copy of Jane Eyre.  Later in hospital, Thursday is interviewed by SO-1 operatives who tell her that Hades was killed.  But, after they leave the hospital, Thursday is visited by her future self who tells her that Hades is alive and that she should take the SO-27 job in Swindon after she recovers.  At the end of Chapter five, we learn that Thursday was treated at the scene of the shooting by Edward Fairfax Rochester who had apparently emerged from the pages of the book.  Rochester's handkerchief was found at the scene.  It was dated "1833." 

In Chapter six Thursday recounts her first experience with the novel, Jane Eyre as a young girl.  At the time, it seemed that she was within the scene interacting with the characters and a dog.  An extraordinary part of the "Thursday Next" series is that the male author has written an intimate series of stories from the view of a female protagonist.  His accounts of the girl/woman and her feelings may be flawed but I am impressed by his effort.  However, I am not qualified to say whether his work succeeds at that level.

In Chapter seven Thursday met Jack Schitt, head of the Goliath Corporation international security service.  The meeting was not a friendly one but, they will meet again.

On her airship flight to Swindon (Chapter eight), Thursday meets her old commanding officer, Colonel Phelps who is still fighting the Crimean War but now with a prosthetic hand.  This meeting causes Thursday to recall the terrible battle that caused her brigade to lose 483 soldiers including her brother, Anton Next.  After landing she is collected by Spike from SO-17 (Vampire and Werewolf Disposal Operations) and meets one captured werewolf (Mr. Meakle).  She stops at a used car lot and buys a sports car, the same one that had visited her in the hospital six months earlier.

In the next chapter (9), Thursday visits her mother at her childhood home in Swindon.  Her Aunt Polly and Uncle Mycroft, the inventor were now living with her mother.  While Thursday's mother and aunt cook dinner, Uncle Mycroft to his workshop to show her his latest inventions including: the ChameleoCar, translating carbon paper, the Olfactograph, HyperBookworms and Hyper BookwormDoublePlus Good. 

Thursday then checked into her hotel that was hosting the 112th John Milton Convention.  Her co-workers Analogy & Cable, and her ex-husband, Landen were waiting for her.  While Thursday was talking to Landen after their piano duo, her father stopped time to give her a taste of a new fruit (banana) that he had found in 2055.  His plan was to "introduce it (banana) somewhere in the tenth millennium before the present one and see how it goes ..."  After naming the fruit for its designer (Anna Bannon), Thursday concluded her conversation with Landen and retired to her room.

In Chapter 11, Thursday's Uncle Mycroft sent Aunt Polly into a William Wordsworth (1770-1850) poem ("I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"), with the help of the bookworms and his Prose Portal machine.  This does not seem to make much sense but we must go with it.  Otherwise, the rest of the book is pure nonsense.  Polly met Wordsworth in his poem and it was a wonderful experience.  However, something then went wrong as the sky grew dark and a cold wind froze the lake.  She screamed "... as the darkness swept on and the poem closed on top of her."

Thursday arrives at the LiteraTec offices (S-27); gets a tour; and meets her new boss, Commander Braxton Hicks.  On the way back to her desk, she bumps into Jack Schitt of Goliath, acting like he owns the place.  At the end of the chapter, Thursday realizes that one of her fellow officers, Bowden Cable had been the person sitting next to her future self in her future vehicle when they visited her in the hospital in Chapter five.

Thursday and Bowden went to lunch at a transport cafe.  While there, Thursday received a call notifying that her aunt and uncle had been kidnapped.  They raced to her mother's house where several police and SpecOps cars were parked.  Soon, Jack Schitt arrived and told Thursday that he was taking over the investigation.

In Chapter fifteen we learn that Acheron Hades is indeed alive.  He is the one who kidnapped Uncle Mycroft with his Prose Patrol machine and bookworms.  With his evil cohorts, Acheron has spirited Mycroft to a hotel in Wales.  In addition, he is threatening to burn the Wordsworth poem that has entrapped poor Aunt Polly.  For his first dirty deed, Acheron has forced Mycroft to open a portal into the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit that he had previously stolen.  One of Acheron's cohorts, Hobbes passes through the portal and brings back the character, "Mr. Quaverly" with him.  Therefore, every copy of this Charles Dickens novel is now missing a minor character.  It seems to be impossible but who am I to say?

Investigating the death of a former LieraTec agent, Thursday and Bowden visit the home of Sturmey Archer, a career criminal who was making a living by casting busts of famous writers.  Before they could get information about Crometty's killer, Sturmey is shot by Felix7 who is stopped by Bowden's bullet.  Felix7 confesses that he killed Crometty and then dies.  Jack Schitt enters the building and berates Thursday for spoiling his crime scene.  After returning to SpecOps, Thursday takes a call for help from Spike.

Spike Stoker had called from the college campus.  When Thursday arrived, she called Spike and received instructions regarding the medication he needed.  She met a vampire (Frampton) disguised as a janitor.  The janitor led her to the room where Spike was eating biology supplies since he was past due for his injection.  The vampire announced that he was going to eat Thursday.  But she shot him and scrambled to inject Spike.  When the vampire recovered, her bullets were no longer effective but just in the nick of time, Spike struck Frampton with a stake through the heart.

Thursday goes on a date with Anton and they argue about the Crimean War.  When back at her room, she sleeps and meets Rochester again in her dream.  Rochester reminds her that she had slightly changed the narrative in Jane Eyre when she had first visited the story as a young girl.

In Chapter 19, Thursday visits the grave of her brother, Anton.  She meets her brother, Joffy there.  They talk about family  and the Crimean War.  Then, Joffy tells Thursday that Anton is the one who has been taking care of Anton's grave.

When Thursday got back to her desk at LiteraTec, she had a visitor.  Dr. Runcible Spoon had come to her office to complain that a minor character (Mr. Quaverly) was missing from his copy of Martin Chuzzlewit.  At the same time, her colleague, Victor Analogy notified her that a body fitting Quaverly's description had been found in Honolulu.  The body had a letter from his mother dated June 5, 1843 in his pocket.  Victor and Thursday then started to discuss all of the known times that a character had been deleted or added to the original manuscript of classic literature.  Apparently, in this strange universe, all copies of any work of literature can be altered by having someone "enter" the original manuscript.  The possibilities are endless.

In Chapter 21, Thursday receives a note from Acheron demanding ten million pounds, a classic painting and the renaming of a motorway.  Otherwise, Acheron will pull Chuzzlewit out of his own novel.  Her boss, Braxton Hicks and that Goliath guy, Jack Schitt tell her to respond positively to the note and they will work on the ransom.  Meanwhile, Thursday's ex-boyfriend, Landon is planning to marry Daisy Mutlar in two weeks. 

An accountant from Newbury was found dead wearing someone else's face.  Thursday dates Bowden,  And, Acheron wants a meeting.

Goliath and LiteraTec decided to set a trap for Acheron with fake money and a fake painting.  Thursday delivered the ransom to the appointed location.  But, Acheron foiled the attempt by arriving by airplane and hooking the ransom by fly-by.  Thursday gave chase but lost the plane as it flew over water and she wrecked her car.  Bowden offered to take Thursday to Ohio with him.  Landen came to see Thursday and give her one more chance but she declined.

Uncle Mycroft was allowed to visit Aunt Polly in that Wordsworth poem in Chapter 24 under the supervision of one one of Acheron's henchmen, Felix8.  However, Mycroft had also successfully destroyed the Chuzzlewit manuscript so no more changes could be made.  Acheron just laughed at this action by Mycroft and made plans to steal another and wreak havoc on it.

The death of Mr. Quaverly has reached the press and SpecOps is being blamed.  The LiterTec staff hold a meeting and decide to infiltrate a group of "Earthcrossers" who seem to have a vague connection to associates of Acheron Hades.  It's a long-shot but so is the premise of this book.

We learn that "Earthcrosser" is another name for asteroid in Chapter 26.  One of Acheron's henchmen, Dr. Muller is a member of this group that chases meteor showers.  Victor Analogy crashes the society meeting and meets Dr. Muller but is identified as a SpecOps agent.  Just in time, the meteorites arrive to prevent the shooting of Victor, allowing Thursday & Bowen to help Victor capture Muller.  However, while Muller is being interrogated by Jack Schitt, Braxton Hicks and Thursday, he combusts spontaneously into a pile of ash after revealing a single tidbit about the whereabouts of Acheron.  Thursday goes back to her hotel and meets a reluctant Marlovian, Chris.  They talk about Marlowe, Shakespeare and Walsingham regarding the actual author of all those plays.

Oh, no!  Not Jane Eyre!  Well, I guess we all saw that coming what with the book title and all.  Acheron stole the manuscript in spite of the six fellows who were guarding it.  Thursday and Bowden burst into action and rush to the scene of the crime.  During the long trip, Bowden confesses that he has not actually read the book he is trying to save.  So, helpfully, Thursday summarizes the entire story for him.  After the telling, most of us will agree that it's not such a great loss.  However, their dash to the scene is blocked on the roadway by a temporal vortex.  Don't you hate when that happens?  Thursday and Bowden rush toward the vortex with a basketball in hand.  Don't ask.  Thursday saved the day and restored the proper time before the ChronoGuard could arrive.  Thursday and Bowden had driven through the vortex and back in time to see Thursday in the past in hospital as we knew they would.  After delivering their message to Thursday-past, they were sucked back through the maelstrom and deposited in a parking lot.  They had briefly visited the past (three weeks ago), but now ChronoGuard officials are notifying them that they have traveled 31 years into the future to 2016 and had broken several rules.  That was a long chapter.

Somehow, Thursday and Bowden returned to their timeline to finally investigate the crime scene.  I suppose that the ChronoGuard know how to bring people home from time accidents.  Back at the LiteraTec office they review the evidence and conclude that Acheron must be at the Penderyn Hotel in Wales. 

In Chapter 29, Acheron sends Hobbes through the Prose Portal to kidnap Miss Jane.  There is a tussle with Rochester and a maid but Hobbes manages to drag Jane back through the portal and into the Penderyn Hotel where Acheron is waiting.

The disappearance of Jane from page 107 of the Bronte book causes a furor across the land.  Braxton is given one week to put her back or Jack Schitt will take over LiteraTec.  Victor Analogy has a plan.

With the help of a friend in a Welsh bookstore, Thursday and Bowden get a ride to the Penderyn Hotel.  They try to sneak up on Acheron who has both Uncle Mycroft and Jane Eyre under guard.  However, Acheron has sensed their presence and his henchmen are ready with guns.  Before anyone fires, Jack Schitt appears and reveals that he has offered a sizeable sum of money for the Prose Portal on behalf of Goliath.  But, Jack refuses to agree with Acheron's terms and everyone starts shooting.  Fortunately, Thursday's father appears and stops time just in the nick.  Acheron jumps through the portal into Jane Eyre.  When time is restored, Thursday & Bowden are safely under cover before bullets hit them.  The shooters retreat; Thursday grabs Jane; and they jump into the portal to chase down Acheron.  Throughout the chapter, the bookworms are belching out punctuation and capitalizing words.  There was much confusion.

Within the 19th century novel, Thursday and Rochester plot their attack on Acheron.  Then, Thursday gets some new clothes and meets some Japanese tourists.  At the end of Chapter 32, Thursday finds Acheron but fails to get him to surrender.

By the beginning of Chapter 33, Thursday had spent months in that book as it rewrote itself for all humankind.  Acheron remained five miles away.  But finally, Acheron makes his break and rushes to the Eyre estate.  Thursday and Rochester give chase but it is crazy old Mrs. Rochester who finds Acheron's vulnerability with her silver silver.  He sets the house (Thornfield) ablaze but before he can escape [SPOILER ALERT!] Thursday shoots him with her silver bullet.

Thurday's actions have changed the ending of the novel.  Jane is now with Rochester in a better ending.  Thursday returns through the portal with the Wordsworth poem so Mycroft can retrieve Polly.  In the confusion, Jack Schitt is pushed into a book about plasma rifles and trapped there.  Now Thursday must stop Landen from getting married.

With the help of a time-traveling Japanese tourist, the Landen-Mutlar wedding is canceled.  Then, the next morning Ms. Next is attacked by Goliathe flunkies but escapes to a scheduled debate where she manages to bring peace to the Crimea.

In the final chapter, Thursday and Landen are married.  Her father briefly appears and several others come by to tease the plot of the sequel.  [JAM 6/27/2020]

Lost in a Good Book (2002)

The Well of Lost Plots (2003)

Something Rotten (2004)

The Big Over Easy - Penguin Books - 2005 - 386 pages

Detective Inspector Jack Spratt works for the Reading Police Department in the Nursery Crime Division. Humperdinck Aloysius Dumpty is found dead near
a wall; It looks like an open and shut case but maybe not. As in his Thursday Next series, author Fforde uses numerous literary references to tie
together a very entertaining story in an alternate timeline. Do not try to read this one to your 5-year-old child unless you are prepared to answer a
multitude of questions. I did not see how the author could turn this well-known nursery rhyme into a 400-page detective story but he did it. I
like the way his mind works. [JAM 6/9/2012]

The Fourth Bear - Viking - 2006 - 383 pages

This is the second volume (after The Big Over Easy) in Fforde's "Nursery Crime" series.  Detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are investigating the recent death of a local journalist and bear supporter (Goldilocks) who died at the "SommeWorld" theme park that provides guests with a realistic experience of trench warfare that occurred during WWI.  At the same time, a giant, psychotic gingerbreadman is on the loose and, Spratt is also trying to locate the mysterious car salesman (Dorian Gray) who sold him an Austin Allegro Equipe that repairs itself.  The investigation takes Jack and Mary to the home of the Bruin family that has been attacked by an unknown assailant who has been cultivating award-winning, nuclear cucumbers.  At the center of the action is a "giant fictional multination corporation" (QuangTech Industries) owned by the Quangle-Wangle who has not been seen in a dozen years.  Other characters include noisy neighbors (and marriage counselors) Punch & Judy, Virginia Kreeper, Hardy Fuchsia, Bisky-Batt and Constable Ashley who is an alien who mostly communicates in binary.  The story gets more complicated when Jack's wife (Madeline) discovers that he is a PDR ("Person of Dubious Reality").  And then Mary gets in trouble for flashing the occupants of the International Space Station during her first date with alien Ashley.  But author Fforde makes it all work with large doses of irony, an outstanding knowledge of literature, and a seemingly boundless sense of humor.  There is never a doubt that the ending will be a happy one.  And, there is no Chapter 13.  [JAM 5/16/2016]

First Among Sequels (2007)

Shades of Grey - Viking - 2009 - 390 pages

Many years after Something That Happened, Eddie Russett and his father travel to East Carmine in the Fringes.  Mr. Russett is a swatchman who is able to cure the ailments of the citizenry by timed exposure to various color combinations.  In this post-apocalyptic world, author Fforde has identified numerous hazards that the Chromatics can avoid only by adhering to the very specific Rules.  Citizens are classified by their ability to see colors with the "greys" being the working class destined to serve unending hours of servitude while the "purples" are the ruling class living a life of privilege.  Others (yellows, reds, blues, etc.) are able to fill skilled positions.  The goal for all is to improve their hue standing by marrying up-color.  Jasper Fforde has the most inventive mind of any living author.  I am amazed by his creation of fictional concepts and his ability to deliver the theme throughout.  This first book in the "Shades of Grey" series exceeds any of the volumes in the highly-regarded Thursday Next series of which I am also a huge fan.  [JAM 7/4/2012]

The Last Dragonslayer (2010)

The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011)

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing - Viking/Penguin - 2011 - 267 pages

Do not try to read this novel unless you have successfully read one of the previous five novels in the "Thursday Next" series (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten & First Among Sequels).  In an alternate universe, Ms. Next is a Jurisfiction agent who travels through literature to restore continuity and proper endings for works of fiction, especially the classics.  In this volume, the real Thursday is missing and her written self is racing through genres in BookWorld to find her before the leader of the Racy Novel genre can take control of the metaphor stream.  Along the way, she rescues a duplex-5, cog-style robot from the Conspiracy genre and he becomes her faithful companion and butler for the adventure.  This is the most complicated of the Thursday Next series and is for book lovers only. [JAM 3/16/2011]

The Woman Who Died a Lot - Viking Penguin - 2012 - 366 Pages

Thursday Next is 54 now and she walks with a limp in this seventh book in the series.  She has two teenage children (Friday and Tuesday) and a third (Jenny) who is mostly imaginary.  Thursday's Jurisfiction Division of SpecOps was disbanded many years ago as was the ChronoGuard since time travel has become unreliable.  However, SpecOps is hiring again because of a national stupidity surplus.  Thursday's return to duty comes just in time for her to address problems including the scheduled smiting of the town of Swindon, the continued growth of the evil Goliath Corporation, the looming arrival of asteroid HR-6984 in 2041, and the arrival of unfavorable destiny letters to her son, Friday and several others.  Meanwhile, arch-enemies Aornis Hades and Jack Schitt are making mischief as usual.  No writer this side of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) has an imagination that matches that of Mr. Fforde.  Every page of this book is filled with cleverness and entertainment.  The author has created a world full of wonder and magic with a wry English sense of humor.  Again, I suggest that new readers start with The Eyre Affair and read the books sequentially.  There are aspects of the series that carry from one book to the next.  [JAM 10/14/2012]

The Last Dragonslayer III: The Eye of Zoltar (2014)

Early Riser - Hodder & Stoughton - 2018 - 402 pages

In the "Acknowledgements," author Fforde thanks his readers "for sticking with me during what I now call my creative hiatus of 2014-2016."  Since his last book (The Eye of Zoltar) was published in 2014, there has been speculation about which of his four series (Thursday Next, Nursery Crimes, Dragonslayer, Shades of Grey) would be the source of his next book.  Instead, he wrote stand-alone Early Riser that is not intended to start a new series.  Set in a different (?) 20th-century (?) Wales and a parallel world where the Winters are deadly, this novel examines the hibernatory habits of mankind and the manipulations of dream worlds by government agencies.  Our hero, Charlie Worthing has decided to leave St. Granata's Pooled Parentage Station and join the "Winter Consul" that guard the "Dormitoriums" from "Slumberdown" to "Springrise." In this world, the life expectation has been reduced to 64 years because of the harsh winters and the "nightwalkers" who are the hibernatory mutants.  Fforde is known for his clever writing style that mixes a sense of humor with situations that only sprout from his creative mind.  While reading this book, it occurred to me that Jasper Fforde is the current writer who comes closest to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) with his insight and entertaining writing style.  It was worth the wait.  Keep them coming, Mr. Fforde. [JAM 9/10/2018]

The Constant Rabbit - Hodder & Stoughton - 2020 - 307 pages

This book is sent in the UK (Much Hemlock) in a different timeline when rabbit communities have anthropomorphised and have a language of their own.  The human protagonist (Peter Knox) works as an analyst for the Ministry for Rabbit Affairs but also moonlights for a local Speed Library group that exists to combat government regulations that have limited the work of librarians to six minutes per two-week period.  The conflict of the story comes from anti-rabbit groups who want to keep them out of libraries and eventually send them back to Wales.  Derogatory terms for "rabbit" are bunny, flopsy, etc.  The introduction to the Speed Librarying chapter is: "Somebody once said that the library is actually the dominant life force on the planet.  Humans simply exist as the reproductive means to achieve more libraries."  Peter joins forces with an old college friend (Constance Rabbit) who is a prominent member of the Rabbit Underground.  Author Fforde makes this all work as rabbits, foxes, weasels and other misc. animals with human traits charge toward an ultimatum.  This is the second of Fforde's "stand-alone" novels published six years after the last of his Dragonslayer series; and eight years after the latest Thursday Next adventure.  The author just keeps his fans guessing about his direction.  But, it is always worth the wait.  [JAM 8/6/2020]