Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Kind of Fantasy Land

So if you read the blog even more avidly than all those other people who read my blog, you may have noted my comments discussion with abg, advising her on good reading material for her vacation.  My strongest suggestion was to get in to Jasper Fforde; though it turns out abg was not enamored of his books, I feel like he's one of that elusive few, male authors whose books I like.  The reason, of course, is that his books are comedic.  Not strict comedy maybe, but definitely light-hearted.  They are also very clever fantasy - taking place in an alternative universe where the fictional characters we know and love are real.  Real and living in a world very similar to our own... except that instead of atoms, they have text. The idea isn't that radical.  But the execution is so good. I mean, yeah, I'm the girl whose favorite sporkle category is literature, so I'm predisposed to like it. But come on, metaphor as the elusive element? Gray's Anatomy the hospital? Footnotes as a communication device? It's just cute :)  Actually, abg agreed with me on this; she just thought that despite all this, the books were tense.  And they are tense - they have a bit of the thriller about them, as so many fantasy books do.  But I just don't think it takes it over or anything - or maybe the sheer absurdity of the villains and various hazards just distracts me from any sense of danger.  I think it's like Terry Pratchett in a way - go, British male writers of comedic fantasy! :)

Anyway, that's as far as the series goes (it's the Thursday Next series, by the way, he has some other books too).  I read them a few years ago, and the sixth one just came out.  So first of all, it's not exactly like I remembered everything from the previous books, which was annoying, but you know, you can mostly pick it up (if the author is at all decent anyway).   And with these books, there's so many little cute jokes I miss, it's not like I get everything anyway.  Like in this book, Thursday is bribed to advertise the Toast Marketing Board.   And only then did I realize that though there were constant references in it to previous books, it is never explained what it is - because she went back and added them gratuitously to the narrative! and cute again :)  The point is, even if you don't get everything, there's enough clever little references you will pick up to make yourself feel smart and get a real kick out of the books.  And with this book, it mattered even less than usual... because the book wasn't even about Thursday.

Okay, here's where it gets clever.  So in Fforde's universe, book characters are real.  Thursday Next has had books written about her (in the series, don't worry, it doesn't get that self-referential - at least not yet :)) so she has a fictional self.  So even though when we open up the book and the narrator is referred to (by others I mean, it's first person) as Thursday, it takes a while to figure out that this is not our Thursday.  But the cool thing is that we like her anyway, because she *is* Thursday.  Or if not exactly Thursday, close enough with her that we still feel like we know her.  Actually, I find entire concept pretty mind-blowing.  I mean our Thursday is fictional, this Thursday is fictional, I don't remember the books well enough to notice the personality differences, but still, he tells us this is the fictional Thursday, and all of the sudden I like her, but I feel *just a little* more distant.  Really makes you think about psychological effects and all that.  Oh and the best part of another Thursday was that she totally hero worships our Thursday and it was tons of fun to hear how everyone thinks she's awesome.

So the book was totally brilliant in that respect.  And it had all the hallmarks of a Thursday Next, where the BookWorld mirrors ours so novelly (cute pun, no? :)) and we get to meet all our favorite (and not favorite) larger than life characters.  It had the usual, I suppose tense and dangerous plot, which was as usual not too tense for me because it was just so overblown.  My only complaint was I did feel that some of the cute punny features of the Book World felt a little too pat.  Like, okay, take any vaguely literary detail and insert it in place of something non-literary - presto, the Book World equivalent.  It felt a little too mad-libby at times. But it was okay, it felt just right in others :) And Jasper Fforde shares with Terry Pratchett a predilection for making over science (physics and chemistry) to fit the fantasy world, which of course I like - it's funny how much I like science,  I should really read it more :)  Anyway, that was really my only complaint... so no surprise -
Verdict: 4.5/5

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