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Thursday, April 14, 2011

What I'm Reading: One of Our Thursdays is Missing

I really enjoy the speculative fiction of Jasper Fforde; in fact, last year, the first book in his new Shades of Grey series made my favorite books I read that year list.  Fforde's newest book (3/11) One of Our Thursdays Is Missing is the sixth book in his series which follows Thursday Next, a member of the literary division of the Special Ops, in an alternative England.  Thursday is able to travel between the real world and the book world.  It is a very complex but not difficult to understand set up, but for those who have never read the series I will tell you that just reading the mechanics of how it all works in the third book, The Well of Lost Plots is one of the most fun reading experiences I have ever had.

Truth be told, I was starting to get bored of the series after the fifth book, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, but I just love Thursday and the way Fforde writes, so I got One of Our Thursdays is Missing as soon as it came out.  Turns out, I think Fforde was a bit bored too, because this new book is a total reboot of the series. And the result is fabulous.

The book world in this series used to be in the form of a giant library, but when One of Our Thursdays is Missing begins, the book world is in the middle of an upgrade to a new operating system.  The enitre world changes to a geographic format.  Fiction is now an island.  Here is where you can buy the map.  I copied this map and gave it to everyone in RA.  The map alone is worth reading the book.

Since you encounter this map in the books, endpapers, before you get to any text, right away, I knew Fforde was ready to inject something new into the series, and I was ready to follow him.  I am so glad I did.

The plot is also a reboot.  Instead of following the real Thursday Next, our protagonist is the book version of Thursday, who we have met in previous books.  She is a pale imitation, but, as the only real Thursday approved book version of Thursday, she is the only one who is qualified for the job Fforde sets up.  You see, the real Thursday is missing and the book version has to find her.  That is the plot, but the joy of reading the book is in the details.  For those who love the real Thursday, I will warn you, she only makes a small appearance her, but give the book version a chance you will grow to love her too.

Along the way, we not only come to love our new Thursday, but Fforde skewers every genre of fiction, current reading trends (such as vampires) and formula plots.  If you have never read a Thursday Next book, but love reading you could pick this title up and enjoy yourself.  If you just like reading in general and are okay with making fun of yourself, start back at the beginning.  This is a series I give out to many patrons, young and old, male and female, realistic fiction readers to speculative fans.  If you love books, you will be enchanted with Thursday Next.

Appeal:  While there is a suspense/mystery story line to each book, this is a series about characters.  Specifically for this title, character is huge because we are comparing what makes the book Thursday different from the real one.  Book Thursday is a reluctant heroine who must overcome her own insecurities and rise to the occasion. Her robot butler is also a great side-kick.

This is a fast paced book filled with car chases, intrigue, mystery, adventure, and a race against the clock. Each time Thursday conquers one challenge, we have maybe a page or three to recover, and then it is off again.

The satire is also relentless.  Fforde obviously loves books and reading, and his satire is constant but is all in good fun.  This is a book to be enjoyed by those "in the know."  He has too many literary references for anyone to physically count, but if you want to try, go to his website and join the discussion.  My favorite part is when Thursday goes to "Fan Fiction" and is besieged by other Thursdays and too many hobbits to count.

Much of the satire also comes from the metafiction aspects to the novel.  We are reading a series of books about a woman named Thursday Next, but this title is about the book version of the real Thursday, who, is really just a character in a book we read.  Huh?  Right.  So if you like that kind of plot line (personally, I love it), read this book.  If the last few sentences gave you a headache, that's fine, there are plenty of other books to read.  No worries.

These are intricately plotted mysteries, set in an alternative reality, filled with humor and adventure, with a compelling series protagonist who has grown over time.  These are thoughtfully constructed books.  They are not hard to read, but the series is complex and deeply layered.  You can read each book for its own merit and enjoy it, but you can also spend hours, days, ever years, pouring through the extra information.  I fall somewhere in the middle here.  For example, every single Fforde book (no matter the series) has no chapter 13.  Why?  Here's the answer.

If you are a big Fforde fan yourself, why not go to the Fforde Fiesta, an annual event in Swindon (the town where Thursday lives) for "those who like to embrace absurdity."  Here is the official blog for the event.

Three Words to Describe This Book:  metafiction, satirical, compelling

Readalikes: If you like the tongue in cheek, social satire of Fforde, you have to try Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  I wrote about The Truth here.

If you like the metafiction aspects and/or the literary references that pop up everywhere at any time try Alan Moore's graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.

If you like the humorous tone and a compelling but flawed protagonist try the Spellmans series by Lisa Lutz.

If you like lighter, fast paced mysteries with tons of plot twists, eccentric but lovable characters, and an interesting setting try the Vish Puri mysteries by Tarquin Hall.

For nonfiction fans, I have a few options of books about books and reading to suggest:  A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester, Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, and Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi.

1 comment:

Laurie C said...

I'm in the middle of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing right now. Thanks for pointing out so many quirky things about the series; I've never looked into it beyond reading the books themselves (rather superficially, apparently).