Friday, February 27, 2009

LitRec: Jasper Fforde

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in Davis Kidd Booksellers here in Nashville staring at the person of one of my favorite authors. There was about twenty of us sitting in plastic chairs directly in front of his fold-up table and I was close enough to see his nose hairs. On his little table, there was a modest stack of his books. He wore a tired sweatshirt and janky jeans. If I saw him on the street, I would have never looked twice. That would have been my mistake.

He sat down without ceremony and just kind of grinned and gave us all a slight wave. At this point, I'm racking my brain wondering if the man was mute and I somehow missed this little piece of intel in his bio. My sister, squirming and bitching next to me, is nudging my arm giving THE LOOK. The one that says 'what the fuck are we doing here'. I shush her as only a big sis can and turned my attention to the man of my day. He takes a sip from a water bottle and says, “How many of you have been asked what my book is about and you have absolutely no answer that makes sense?”

Immediately, twenty or so hands go up in the room.

And that, my friends, is the gist of Jasper Fforde.

He is an enigmatic Englishman whose appearance gives no indication to the brilliance of mind this man houses in his head. In person, Fforde is affable and endearing, but on paper he is sharp and at times, frustrating. But it's a good kind of exasperation the reader gets from this master of wordplay – if you can catch all the puns, cleverness and wit. I normally have to read one of his books at least twice to get the full picture, and even on a tenth read I am finding new things.

His first and breakout novel is The Eyre Affair, which is also the first in his Thursday Next Series. Thursday Next is our main heroine and she is sarcastic, witty and sometimes every bit of the classic balls-to-the-wall detective she was meant to be. She exists in an alternate universe where Imperial Russia and England have been fighting a Crimean War for the greater part of the last century. The year is 1985.

Books in this world are of the utmost value – well, books AND cheese – and Thursday does her societal duty by operating as a Literary Detective in Swindon. She goes on a mad caper that involves Martin Chuzzlewit, re-engineered Dodos, a maniacal madman, her one true love – Landen Parke-Laine, a gestapo corporation called Goliath, WillSpeak machines, Prose Portals, genius Uncle Mycroft, Daddy Colonel Next who is on the run from the Chronoguard in time and the inevitable breaking of the thin veil between the land of reality and literary fiction. Her biggest claim to fame here – SPOILER – is her inevitable changing of the end of Jane Eyre (thank the gods). But that's just in the first book. In each of the follow-ups, Thursday is breaking down barriers and navigating reality, fiction and even motherhood with smashing style.

To actually spell out the tightly constructed plot is nearly impossible and as with the sequels Fforde has provided us, you just have to read them to get it.

In addition to his Thursday Next series, Fforde has also started a Nursery Crimes series based off of a side character from the Thursday Next novels. Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sergeant, Mary Mary, solve Nursery Crimes of the most heinous fuckery. Whenever I need a break from Thursday, Jack is always waiting on me in his debut novel, The Big Over Easy.

Jack was there in my hand on the day I met Jasper. It was on the release of his Nursery Crime series that I was able to enjoy his company as he regaled us with the witticisms and pearls of his craft. He was humble and hilarious, and even my questionably mutant sister enjoyed his disposition. I got in the back of the meager line to have my books signed (yes, I brought every one of his I owned) and last minute, I only requested he sign two (The Eyre Affair and The Big Over Easy). I was delighted by him following us to get a cup of tea from the cafe in the bookstore and I had the opportunity to chat amicably with his loverly Brit Speak. I am guessing that Fforde would never remember this, but every time I go to open one of his works, I remember fondly the day I was able to meet one of the most intriguing modern authors I have had the pleasure to read.

To peruse this author's work, please visit his website at Fforde Grand Central.

Smellyia is an administrator for this Blog and is currently reading Fool by Christopher Moore. She is entranced by Shakespearean Fuckery atm.


  1. Hello,

    Jasper Fforde, with the Thursday Next series, has truly written one of the most creative and unique stories that I have ever read. Probably THE most creative and unique story that I have ever read.

    I'm sitting here staring at "The Eyre Affair" on my bookshelf and am having a silent laugh. This book is a running joke between my father and I. I have recommended it to him maybe 15 or 20 times over the past year and half, since I first uncovered it, each time describing the story in a new way. Sometimes it is a book about a girl that can go inside books, sometimes it is a book about a father who is lost in time, sometimes it is a book about an alternate universe UK in the 80's. There is just so much that exists within the few hundred pages that make up this fascinating novel.

    I, like Smellyia, have read this novel over and over again. The first few times to actually grasp what happened in the novel, and the continues times because I kept uncovering new things that I loved about the novels.

    I mean the idea - that there is this alternate universe where books are alive with characters and plot devices running amok. Gah! Who thinks of something like that? And not just thinks about it, but elaborately develops the alternate universe to the tiniest detail.

    I would highly, highly recommend this book. I would advise you not to get discouraged if you don't fully understand everything that is going on or if it seems too complicated for you. The more you read of the story, the more you understand. And this novel is oh, so worth it.


  2. YAY! I KNEW someone else had to have read this. I am thrilled. I wish I could have gone into his sequels -- as I think many of those are better (The Well of Lost Plots being my fave and I believe he won an award for that one). But I just think he weaves a ridiculous amount in so tightly to the point that I have problems finding problems with his work! Normally, if I don't understand or are missing something -- it's user error ;D.

    I actually sent my beta to get it and she had a hard time getting into it. It took me two or three tries, but once I got there, I became ADDICTED. I know he is suppose to have a 2009 book, but it may be from a third series he is starting and not Thursday, although I'd take a Nursery Crimes as well. He is like Maguire to me in his bastardizing of the common well-known tale and turning it into something that has so much more cleverness and meaning. Sigh. I may need to add him to my stalked list.

  3. I have recommended it to many people, most of which have gotten stuck in the beginning and never picked it back up again.

    At first I didn't read this novel, I listened to it - while at work. After about an hour or so of listening I realized that it is not the type of novel you can listen to while doing something else, it is too complicated (and too good). So the next day I went out and bought a copy - then realizing it was a series and ended up picking up all the books.

    I think the word of the day is PERSISTENCE. Chances are you will need to read the first book at least two times to gain a good understanding of the plot. But I promise you that you have never read anything like this before - and you won't soon forget how INTERESTING this book is.

    "The Well of Lost Plots" is my favorite as well! This makes me want to go back and re-read these books. It has been a few months since I have. I'd love a new book in 2009!


  4. I think I shall reread too!

    I think his next plan is Shades of Grey in December/Jan. I was hoping for another Next or Nursery Crimes -- but doubtful. It's on his site and there's an excerpt. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he comes near me again so I can go get it signed ;D.

  5. Oh, Amelia. It's like you're in my bookcase.

    I love the Tuesday Next series. It was a random find for me in this little used bookstore I went to in my college town. The first book was so quirky that I automatically loved it and bought up every book in the series. (Even going to a chain bookstore to find the last one! *GASP*)

    Thanks for getting Fforde's awesomeness out there.


  6. CHAIN -- Surely you jest?

    Seriously tho -- what do you love the most? Nursery Crimes or Thursday?


Spread The Word