Tag Archives: British literature

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels was the last of the Thursday Next books sitting on my to-read shelf. I was a little excited about it, mainly because I’ve had a nonfiction reading jag, and I was ready to return to something I’d find more relaxing and less taxing. What I got was a purely delightful book that stands with its head just a little taller than most of the other Thursday Next books.

One of the best things about this book is that it starts off with Thursday as a middle-aged woman. She has her children and her husband, whom she has told she has given up her work with all enforcement agencies she was previously associated with. Instead, she owns a flooring business.

This is, of course, a lie.

Next works undercover, with the carpet-laying job being a ruse so that she can justify to Landen all the time she spends away from home. Life seems to be going along as smoothly as it can when one’s lying to one’s husband, and then there’s a surprise. Thursday’s son, Friday, who is a typical lazy teenager, is revealed to be the future head of the ChronoGuard — except that he should have started training a long time ago. The fate of the world hangs on his career choice; it appears the universe will end in a couple of days.

Thursday is also training herself from her fifth book, Thursday5, to become a Jurisfiction agent. Sadly, she also gets saddled with Thursday1-4, who turns out not to be cut from the correct cloth for this type of work.

I loved the fact that every plot part was easy to track. Fforde did a much better job of juggling the various aspects of the story within the reader’s mind; some of his other Next books have left me a little confused at points when I had to struggle to remember something that was mentioned quite a bit earlier in the book. This time, it was put together so well that I didn’t have to put forth the effort to find what he’s referencing, which is perfect. I read Thursday Next: First Among Sequels for fun and as a break from nonfiction.

Another great thing about this book is that there is a lot less jumping around between books and time. I prefer it when there’s a cleaner flow, and Fforde provided that wonderfully here. I also liked the fewer references — sometimes the earlier books fell into the fault of stretching for a pun or literary mention. There’s less of that here.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels left me excitedly anticipating my chance to read the next book in the series. That’s the mark of an awesome book.

Rating: 5/5.

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Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

After reading The Well of Lost Plots, I wasn’t sure what to expect in Something Rotten.  It surprisingly picks up two years after the previous book, with Thursday having given birth to her son, Friday, and returning to the real world.  It gets back to the main story of Thursday’s life, which, I think, is preferable to the fantastical world of unpublished books.  Something Rotten is superior, and I enjoyed it even more than The Well of Lost Plots.

Thursday returns with a guest — Hamlet, who needs some time away from his play.  Accompanied also by her son and dodos, Thursday comes back to stay with her mother.  She also finds Goliath Corporation trying to make itself a religion, a prophesy that states that if the Swindon Mallets, the local croquet team, doesn’t win its game against the Reading Whackers, the world just might end.  Thursday ends up as manager, since Goliath hires away most of the talent from the team.

Thursday takes advantage of Goliath’s religious aims, asking for an apology and the return of her husband, Landen.  They hold to their word, but he flickers in and out for a while, causing some issues with showing up at his home only to find his parents there instead, who don’t remember their son ever becoming an adult.

With all this going on, Thursday is also chasing down the minotaur that escaped from captivity in the previous book and is chasing down Yorrick Kaine, who has come to significant political power and has started a crusade against the Danes and all things Danish.  She is also being chased down by an assassin called the Windowmaker, who has close ties to one of her good friends.  A loaded plate, to say the least.

I think the best thing about this book is the balance between the crises.  I didn’t have as much of a problem following exactly what was going on in Something Rotten.  That might have something to do with the fact that I’ve actually read more of the books and plays mentioned in this volume than the others, but I also think Fforde has created a more polished book.  Friday’s escapades make more sense and the prose flows more easily.

One thing that confused me a bit was the inclusion of illustrations in the book, which seemed more heavy in the front of the book than in the back.  I suspect these might have been a holdover from the hardcover edition, but, seeing as they weren’t in the other books in the series, it made me a little perplexed.  I would have preferred them be left out; I think that, unless it’s a children’s book or a nonfiction book that needs figures, illustrations aren’t really necessary.

Overall, I really enjoyed Something Rotten.  I found it more clever than The Well of Lost Plots, which is a pretty difficult feat, and I was completely engaged in the narrative.  I can’t wait to get into the next book in the series, to find out what next happens to Ms. Thursday Next.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

I have to admit, I’m a little rusty on my Thursday Next.  The last time I read one of the books, it was in 2006, and The Well of Lost Plots was just coming out as a hardcover.  Now, here I am, five years later, and I’m having to do some catching up.  It’s well worth it, though, for the world of Thursday Next is one richly filled with all sorts of literary delights.

We start off pretty close to where Lost in a Good Book leaves off.  Thursday is hiding within the Well of Lost Plots to protect her unborn child, the product of a marriage to a man who never existed.  She finds a place to stay within an unpublished mystery novel, taking the place of one of the secondary characters.  The book is not doing well, and Thursday tries to provide a little help before it gets pulled apart for its words.

Thursday is also being trained, by Miss Havisham, to become a literary enforcement agent.  She goes through some pretty grueling training, which can also be amusing — Miss Havisham leads a group therapy session for the characters from Wuthering Heights, which Thursday tags along to.  We then get to see what happens in between the pages, which, for Wuthering Heights, basically means that everyone spends their time hating Heathcliff.

Here is one of the great things about the Thursday Next series:  it’s for people who love to read.  Not just love to read, but love to read novels.  Not just love to read novels, but love to read those books that are considered great literature.  Fforde takes the characters from big books, like Great Expectations or Jane Eyre, and puts his own take on what their personalities are into his versions of them.  It’s really nice … for those of us who have read the books he’s referencing.

This is, thus, one of the biggest downfalls of Fforde’s books, too — you have to be a complete book nerd to get every little thing he puts in.  Otherwise, the only things you’re going to understand are the puns, and that’s no way to go through a book.  A person’s literary well-being can’t be sustained on puns alone.

Fforde does have a very lovable writing style.  His inner circle of characters are pretty well-rounded, and I enjoy the world he has created where foundering books are in a well far below the library of all fiction created (at least, in English).  I think that many well-exposed readers would really enjoy the Thursday Next series; if one doesn’t, I think The Well of Lost Plots has very limited appeal.  Maybe, though, it’s an incentive to read books that are over ten years old — I know I haven’t read Wuthering Heights, and I think maybe it’s about time I do.

Rating: 4/5.

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The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

When I first chose to read The Woman in White, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I thought, perhaps, that it would be a supernatural thriller of some sort — one of the descriptions I read lead me to believe so.  It isn’t, and how happy I am to have been wrong.  The Woman in White is a superb and clever mystery story, and has no need of the occult.

Wilkie Collins’ telling of the story of Walter Hartright and Laura Fairlie has a pacing that is very pleasant.  Collins takes his time to describe locations and characters in a way that seems lost to modern writers.  I, for one, enjoy the longer exposition that he provides, not only for the surroundings, but also for the thoughts of the narrators.  Their minds are open for exploration while also maintaining small secrets for later.

Notice I did say narrators.  Collins has not only Walter Hartright tell us this story from his point-of-view, but we also follow, among others, the Fairlie family lawyer, Laura’s cousin Marian, and the clever and devious Count Fosco.  He also uses multiple sources — for example, Marian’s account of part of the story is told through her journal entries, while Count Fosco’s is told through a writing of his about past deeds.  I thought this a wise choice, since the story involves all these people.  Hartwright’s experience of the events that unfold after he meets with the Fairlie family could never have provided the information and insight needed to properly built a true mystery.

The actual mystery of The Woman in White is well-done.  It’s not my first choice of genres, but I think, for the time it was published, that it was rather smart.  We’re given an obsessed, mentally-unstable woman, Anne Catherick, who floats in and out of the story, stirring up suspicions.  We have a smart and brave hero in Hartright, who collects the accounts of others and puts everything together in order to rescue the woman he loves.  There’s Laura Fairlie, who is a sweet and delicate woman not entirely up to the challenges placed in front of her, and her cousin, Marian, who is a strong and fiercely intelligent woman whose strong love for Laura and Walter allows her to perform amazingly on their behalf.  Lord Glyde, Laura’s husband, is a brute, but it is his companion, Count Fosco, who is the deadly mastermind behind the entire story.

The story is compelling.  Collins makes inheritance money the ultimate center of the story, and, while death is in this book, there is only one slaying, and it was not performed for the gain of money or in retribution for anything done against the Fairlie women or Hartwright.  I thought this a refreshing approach to handling a story that easily could have gone down the murderous route.

It may be that I’m a tyro when it comes to mysteries, but I think Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White has a timeless appeal that will make it a quiet favorite for generations to come.

Rating: 4/5.

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Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is one of those books that is a product of its time.  Julia Strachey, the author, was of Virginia Woolf’s time — in fact, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding was published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press.   It is put forth today as a “forgotten twentieth-century novel” by the current publishers, and I think that’s a fair assessment.  The book has a limited audience it speaks to, and others are not likely to pick it up.  Despite that, I think that it is a good depiction of British women of a certain class and time and their relationships; it is thus worth reading if only for the insight it gives into the time period.

The book takes place in the home of Dolly Thatcham, a bride-to-be dressing for her wedding.  The house is full, from the visiting relatives and guests to the servants, and her confused mother looks after it all.  Dolly appears to not have anyone who truly understands her other than Joseph Patten, a former lover, who is unhappily in attendance for the wedding between his still-beloved Dolly and Owen Bigham.  Joseph and Dolly play the game of keeping up appearances, and can even almost do it.

One delightful point of both realism and symbolism was when Dolly, drunk and uncoordinated, manages to spill ink on the front of her wedding dress.  The only one there to help is Joseph, who does — he gets her a lace scarf to drape and pin over the stain.  In it I find both the sign that Dolly’s marriage to Owen will never be a clean start, and also an omen of what is to come from Joseph after the wedding.

I suppose Cheerful Weather for the Wedding could be, and probably is, classified as domestic fiction — after all, the book takes place solely in one house over the events of a part of a day.  In this way, it carries on in the tradition of Jane Austen, taking a careful look at the manners and mores of the time and skewering them.  Unlike Austen, however, Strachey strives to move beyond the manners into a more realistic life depiction.  While Austen would have striven for the characters to cover scandal and to provide for them a mostly happy ending, in this book no one ends up in an enviable position.  In this way Strachey has both honored Austen in her genre choice, while also subverting its conventions and providing it with a more realistic feel.

Overall, I found the story to be a solid one, with some really interesting parts.  It’s not my favorite genre, but it was an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.5/5.

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