One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Review by Chris Speight
Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, April 2011
It is a time of unrest in the BookWorld. Only the diplomatic skills of ace literary detective Thursday Next can avert a devastating genre war. But a week before the peace talks, Thursday vanishes. Has she simply returned home to the RealWorld or is this something more sinister?
All is not yet lost. Living at the quiet end of speculative fiction is the written Thursday Next, eager to prove herself worth of her illustrious namesake.
The written Thursday is soon hot on the trail of her factual alter-ego, and quickly stumbles upon a plot so fiendish that it threatens the very BookWorld itself.
Jasper Fforde draws on his previous and varied career in the world of film; combined with the humour more suited to the Muppets than literature to created an alternative history world where (amongst other things) people travel in air ships and use the Gravitube to visit other parts of the world; dodos, mammoths and Neanderthals have all been brought back from extinction through the power of genetic engineering; England is a republic with (until recently) George Formby as president for life and most unbelievably living in Swindon is cool! Oh and cheese is heavily taxed and many varieties illegal. Living in this world (and Swindon) - where literature is the most popular entertainment - is Thursday Next: daughter of Colonel Next of SpecOps-12 [ChronoGuard] and Wednesday Next, wife of Landen Parke-Laine hero of the Crimean War (still raging); former agent with the disbanded SpecOps-27 [Literature Detectives]; occasionally seconded to (the now privatised) SpecOps-17 [Werewolf and Vampire Disposal Operations]; member of the Superhoops ’88 winning Croquet team; occasional cheese smuggler and now working at Acme Carpets (Hmmm...)
One of Our Thursdays is Missing (or OOOTIM) is the 6th book to feature Thursday Next following her adventures as she saves the world of literature from the corrupting evils of “RealWorld”. As a result of her RealWorld investigations, Thursday discovers that “BookWorld” exists not only in the mind of authors and readers, but can also be visited by those with the imagination and power to do so. In BookWorld she discovers Jurisfiction (the policing agency within books) and eventually becomes a valued agent, making friends along the way with Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Commander Bradshaw and His Merciless Emperor Zhark. OOOTIM begins in a time of change - the remaking of BookWorld from a metaphysical library, to a series of archipelagos located on the inside of a sphere and where Fiction is split into various islands / regions representing the genres within fiction. Of course, as everyone knows change brings with it disruption and all is not well in BookWorld. The Genres are jostling for position, looking for the means of gaining readers in the RealWorld and therefore superiority and more power in BookWorld. The only person who can avert a war is Thursday Next, and she’s missing. The only solution lies in a small corner of Fantasy where the written Thursday Next lives: yes in the RealWorld Thursday Next’s adventures are well known and have been written about (in a fictionalised form) and so now Thursday Next exists both as the real person and as part of the written word.
Now reading this you’ll be beginning to think “how on earth can any hot-potch of ideas, lunacy and metaphors make a book worthy of spending your time reading?” Or to put it more succinctly WTF!? If truth be told I can’t answer that directly: maybe Jasper Fforde is insane, maybe I’m insane too, but the truth is that the Thursday Next series (and his other series I’ve read Nursery Crime and Shades of Grey) somehow just work. Jasper Fforde manages to take purple and orange, paint them on the same wall and instead of clashing they merge into a compelling montage that you just can’t help to be impressed with; reading his books are the same. At times you wonder how you can be enjoying what is being written, but the end result is impossible to put down. OOOTIM is one of those books you will enthuse about to your friends without being able to say why it’s great. Is it a fantasy book? Is it a comic novel? Is it literature? Is it a mystery novel? Actually it’s all of the above. There are many in jokes in OOOTIM, but the “in” of the joke isn’t that you need to have read the previous books in the series to be in on the joke; it’s that the book is breaking the rules of fiction. Jasper uses obvious plot devices such as deus ex machina, but you don’t care because he knows he’s doing it and you know he’s doing it, but the characters are still surprised! The humour of the book is in the fact that (at times) you know exactly what’s going on, but the characters don’t. In many ways it’s like reading an Agatha Christie book, but instead of Poirot noticing all the clues and fitting them into place, you as the reader get the clues and it’s Poirot (or in this case Thursday) who is bamboozled.
In summary I think this is a great book. It’s so difficult to describe why it works and is so compelling, but Jasper mixes everything I like in a perfect ratio so reading it is a roller coaster of emotions. Don’t be put off by the fact this is the 6th book in a series either, there is so many changes and reinventions for even the seasoned Thursday Next fan that it should be easy for anyone to work out what’s happening without knowing how we got here. It’s definitely a standalone book although within an ongoing series.
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