Thursday Next 1: The Jane Eyre Affair — Jasper Fforde

Alright, I know, these are out of order. There is a reason, but it’s not actually all that exciting. Now that I know that the readership of this blog is actually not zero, I’m far more wary of the conversational tone that has crept into these posts. Oh, whatever. The 7th Thursday Next novel (in fact, the first book I actually reviewed) was on my Kindle. I had just finished The Magician by Raymond Feist (review to come), which was an absolute tome of a book. Great book (well, there’s a spoiler for the review!) but it was long, so I wanted something familiar. So I re-read The Woman Who Died A Lot, and then wanted some more Fforde-ian hi-jinks, so grabbed First Among Sequels from my Calibre library, as it was the only other Thursday Next book I had in an appropriate eBook format. Unfortunately, the formatting was atrocious, and whoever had constructed the eBook file should be ashamed. So, I sought a better copy, which was promptly provided by someone who doesn’t have a public blog, and hence I cannot link to, and they threw in a few other things for good measure, and that’s an incredibly roundabout way of getting to the fact that I’m now reading through what they delivered, which includes The Jane Eyre Affair. (Note, I own the dead-tree editions of all of these books, I’m just not sure where they’ve got to.)

So, Jasper Fforde is a living British novelist with an interesting background, and you’ve read all of this before. I’ve reviewed three of his other books. He writes intelligent books that mean that you have an internet browser open to look things up. My range of knowledge is pretty eclectic, but getting in-jokes about classical authors is sometimes a bit of a stretch for me.

We meet Thursday Next, an accomplished LiterTech agent as part of SpecOps living and working in London. She is temporarily transferred to a classified division whose only purpose is the apprehension of Archeron Hades, a criminal of supernatural powers. Needless to say, things go terribly wrong. Next is hospitalised and blamed for the fiasco. A woman, in a rainbow-painted sports car, appears in her hospital room and insists that she returns to her birthtown of Swindon, and takes a job there. After doing so, her uncle Mycroft demonstrates a way of jumping in and out of the written page, a technology much sought after for profit and mayhem by the Goliath Corporation. (The hint is in the name, guys!) At this point, I’m wanting to just leave it with: “and hijinks ensue”. However, Next and Hades end up trapped in the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, much to the consternation of the reading public.

There is a great deal more detail to the world than the brief synopsis above indicates. There are ongoing discussions about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, a topic upon which everyone seems to have an opinion. There is Next’s father, a rogue Chronoguard agent, who is constantly tweaking time to get history back onto the course that it should be on. There are dodos, part of the home-cloning fad of the 70s. It seems familiar, but it’s only an illusion. You’re transported to a world where books are everything, and the written word is the most important thing. (This is not a state of affairs that persists. It is fascinating to watch, over the course of the series, the change in the world that Fforde creates. It is spoiling future plot points, but the idea of people’s investment in time, and the eradication of the Now and how it relates to people’s attention spans, is some of the most biting satire that Fforde creates.)

Oh, and a tip? Read the names out loud. It took me absolutely forever to work out that Thursday’s love from the Crimean war (still going!) named Landen with surname Parke-Laine was a terrible, terrible pun.

A definite recommendation on this book, and the entire series. (Most of which I suspect that I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.)

Obligatory links. I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and so by buying things through my links, I earn a fraction of a fraction of a cent. If you want to buy a bunch of stuff from Amazon, then let me know, and I can set up some Affiliate links :)

You can purchase the novel in many formats from that link, including paperback and Kindle.

The Truth About Sharks and Pigeons — Matt Phillips

There are links to buying this books from Amazon in either Kindle format or paperback format at the bottom of the post.

The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons by Matt Phillips.

Neither the book or the author have a Wikipedia page. Perhaps I should learn how to code Wikipedia nonsense? Idea for later.

Author bio in brief: Matt Phillips was born in the United Kingdom, read Anthropology at Cambridge, and then moved to New Zealand. This isn’t such a surprise, as The Truth about Sharks and Pigeons (hereforth referred to as The Truth) is set initially in the UK and then moves to New Zealand. Nifty.

“Wing B, did they enter Room IIB?” snapped Mr Gring, unable to keep the concern from his voice. “We are not sure, sir. There was quite a detonation, and it knocked out the cameras. We know that security was breached in a room in that area, we should know soon. It may have been IIB.” “Know soon, know soon?” Mr Gring seethed. “It may have been IIB? Good god, man, was it IIB or not IIB? That’s the bloody question!”

So, that’s pretty much how it goes. It’s not quite Douglas Adams, it’s not quite Terry Pratchett, but it’s getting there. The off-beat humour works, the surreal ideas play out, the characters are generally just setups for really bad puns.

Bill sat at a small pine table, the three chairs arranged around it were mismatched, one had a tear in the fabric cushion on the seat and the other had a tendency to collapse if you used it the wrong way. ‘Using it the wrong way’ included things like sitting in it. It had never been an issue, as in all his time at the flat Bill had never had more than a single guest. That was of course unless you counted the time he had been burgled.

Our progatonist (Bill Posters) is introduced to the truth by a pigeon spy. Teamed up with the incredibly well-trained Fern (upon whom he promptly develops a crush), they travel via science fiction device (it’s just simpler to leave it like that) to New Zealand to do battle with, well maybe it’s best to use a quote again:

On top of talking pigeons and Segway-riding sharks he now had a psychic link with a geriatric sheep.

The writing is solid, the pacing is pretty good, and whilst it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Adams or Pratchett, it’s a decent effort. This is Phillips’ first full-length novel, and I’ll be looking forward to any follow-ups.

Bonus features: the edition read was the 8-month-and-4-day special anniversary edition. It came with Alternate Endings, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers and Outtakes, a soundtrack, and a very silly competition. I’m pretty certain everything other than the Deleted Scenes are just additional silliness. As with most deleted scenes, it’s best that they were deleted. At least this is a sign that there is a strong editor behind the scenes.

(As I was writing this, I was being criticised for writing too much. Apparently I’d lose people by this point. If you’re not reading this, turns out my critics are correct.)

The Kindle version: The paperback version: