Another retro-read as I’m still working on The Girl in the Red Coat, but if you’ve never read these and yet you’ve found my blog, you really should get onto them straight away.
I’ve read them a few times now (book and audio) but picked them up again a couple of months ago.
As a bit of a literature and language geek, the Thursday Next Series, lovingly crafted by Jasper Fforde, really tickles me. There are endless references to a range of familiar characters – most from literature but some from mythology – Greek mainly -, as well as various ‘in-jokes’; some of which are subtle, some less so (such as the villainous Jack Schitt).
The story revolves around our protagonist, a thirty-something ‘Special Operative’ named Thursday Next, discovering she has the ability to read herself into the literary world. She works with government agencies both inside the book world and out in order to help good battle evil, all the while balancing a rich and complicated family life.
Some of my favourite bits of the series are:
- The fact that dodos still exist as DIY programmable kits
- The performance of Richard III that Thursday and Landen attend
- The extortionate tax on cheese
- Wales as a difficult to reach republic
- Miss Havisham as a kick-ass book agent with a long-standing feud with the Queen of Hearts
- The unofficial British national anthem being ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’
- Croquet as THE competitive sport
- Anywhere the punctuation is used creatively as part of the storyline
- The concept of new characters Ib and Ob slowly gaining an identity before auditioning for parts in new books
- Mycroft and his fabulous inventions
- The Jenny plot line
The list goes on and I imagine if you’ve never read them, those were all a bit strange.
Each book in the series comes as a new surprise as each follows on but is very different from its predecessors. I think my absolute favourite is the second, Lost in a Good Book as it is here that we are first introduced to Jurisfiction and the inner workings of the Bookworld, to Havisham and the works of Daphne Farquitt.
Don’t get me wrong. There are imperfections in the series. Some plot lines are left unfinished and I think Thursday’s cousins swap wives at one point though I could be wrong, but I love the series so much I will forgive it an awful lot. It’s not for everyone. I once used an extract in a lesson, and it was fascinating to see the jokes just fly straight over the students’ heads while the adults in the room smiled appreciatively. You need to be well read to understand the full complexity of what’s going on but if you are that sort of person, you’ll love these books.
Ultimately, they are an extravagant celebration of both classic and contemporary literature. The dystopian world in which it is set, where people casually debate and campaign for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and everyone is named after a big player in the literary world is one I would love to live in.
I wish I could explain more about the plot to give you a decent overview but I just can’t – it’s just too complicated. I’ll try it with the first one.
Thursday is introduced to us as a single woman working for an organization called Spec-Ops in London. She has a vendetta against a typical villain type called Acheron Hades (river… hell…. Greek) and tracks him down which results in a showdown and an old flame who has been spectacularly aged by a twist in time dying. During this showdown a woman appears telling her to ‘take the Swindon job’. Recovering from an injury in hospital she sees a job advertisement to join the Swindon Literary Detectives division and so she and her Dodo, Pickwick, head to Swindon… That’s all you get because I think that’s about the first 10 pages and already I feel like you might be lost. It has Jane Eyre in it, dodos, some Shakespeare, lots of madness… it’s just awesome.
My other favourites of Fforde’s are the Nursery Crime stories: The Big Over Easy and its sequel, The Fourth Bear. These are similar in style though based in the world of nursery rhymes. Rather beautifully, they get a rather massive shout out later in the Thursday Next series too. Shades of Grey is my other favourite and it explores the world of colour, where citizens are classed based on their colour perception. Both worlds are equally extraordinary.
This has been a bit of a geek-out for me, my apologies, but if any of my enthusiasm has appealed to you and you like a bit of silliness and book madness, I strongly suggest you give it a go.
Books: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer & a digital copy of a book due for release next year, gifted kindly to me by Old Castle Books and No Exit Press as I may well be interning with them early next year.
Audio: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JKR, because I only have new physical books right now but also can’t stand silence!
P.S. Just did an interview for an editorial position. Think it went well – wish me luck.