jasper fforde has won a wodehouse award for comic fiction, has become an international best-selling author, and has a style that seems tailor-made for a passionate cult following.
A former lightbulb shooter in the film industry, he began writing at 30 and in the annals of tenacious authors he must rank high: He was rejected no less than 76 times before publishing his first novel. since then fforde has been extremely prolific, having written seven novels in seven years. there is an infectious vivacity and playfulness in his writing, which is perhaps one of the secrets of his attractiveness. His success could also be attributed to his refusal to establish a boundary between himself and his readers. His website is not just a huge store of obscure bits and pieces about the minutiae of his universe, it also contains games, contests, and a lively forum. it all serves to push the idea that there is some corner of the universe that is forever Ffordian.
in 2001, the eyre affair introduced the world to stubborn next thursday (a name typical of the author’s love of puns). Also appearing in Lost in a Good Book (2002), The Well of Lost Plots (2003), Something Rotten (2004) and the first of the sequels (2007), Thursday is a Swindon-based literary detective. she is unlike any other heroine (or hero) in fiction. she throughout the series she has a series of excellent adventures. She rescues kidnapped characters from great works of literature, marries a man who later disappears, meets Miss Haversham and the Cheshire cat, hides in unpublished novels, and investigates the untimely death of Sherlock Holmes. she also becomes a begrudging celebrity, a single mother, and pits her considerable wits against the unabashedly all-powerful goliath corporation (sort of a microsoft/news international hybrid) swindon, which in mark haddon’s curious incident of the dog in the night is short for a dreary and nondescript city, it has never been so exhilarating. in fact, she has repaid her debt to the author by naming some new roads after her characters and by celebrating the first festival of jasper fforde.
In addition to the ‘thursday next’ novels, fforde has written two books in the ‘nursery crime’ series. the big over easy (2005) and the fourth bear (2006) form the first two parts of what will be a trilogy. DCI Jack Spratt and his sidekick Mary Mary live in the same skewed reality as the following Thursday. However, if the upcoming novels are twists on the quest for fantasy, the “child crime” books have a lot of fun at the expense of police procedurals and thrillers involving weird science and unexplained explosions. dci spratt works in reading, investigating crimes involving nursery rhyme characters: like the goldilocks murders and humpty stuyvesant van dumpty iii. Far from being the jaded alcoholic cop so beloved by crime novel writers, he is an enthusiastic and capable officer whose professional life is made extremely difficult by the fact that his division is underfunded and understaffed. One of the most impressive aspects of ‘child crime’ novels is that they feel like they’re set in a real police station – a binary-speaking alien named Ashley just so happens to work there.
Like the ‘Thursday Next’ series, the Spratt novels are full of postmodern inventiveness, from their references to famous movies in their titles to Shrek’s delight in taking familiar characters and placing them in different contexts. in both series fforde generates great empathy for his characters, something that many more ‘literary’ authors fail to achieve. Thursday Next in particular is one of the most memorable creations in contemporary writing: energetic, forthright, and though it occupies a world of bizarre happenings, utterly believable.
In all of his books, Fforde prefaced his chapters with excerpts from fabricated biographies, works of social history, and diaries. he also concludes each of his novels with a series of announcements for various products from the stories. This adds to the playful charm of the books and serves to deepen the “reality” of Fforde’s imaginary world. Never less than extraordinarily inventive, hardly a paragraph in a Fforde novel goes by without the author throwing a new idea at the reader. not all work. those with an aversion to puns, for example, may not appreciate fforde’s tendency to be so reliant on them. and while the dialogue is generally very strong, some of the jokes can fall flat. but sheer imaginative chutzpah is hard to resist.
fforde’s great achievement is having imagined his alternate world with the eye-opening attention to detail of jk rowling or terry pratchett. In the pages of his books, the reader travels to a place where dodos are kept as pets, the Crimean War never ended, and Wales is a socialist republic. it is also a world where books and stories not only matter, but are fundamental to life. People pay for Shakespearean soliloquies from Willspeak vending machines, take part in Rocky Horror Picture-style productions of Richard III, and invite figures from Greek mythology into their home as guests. There are holidays to the works of Jane Austen and the gingerbread man as a sadistic serial killer.
fforde’s novels occupy a space beyond the instinctive need to categorize. Given the author’s experience working on films like Goldeneye and the Mask of Zorro, it is perhaps not surprising that many view his novels as cinematic. they have the pacing, cohesion, and neat, satisfying conclusions of blockbusters done right. they are well laid out and have visual flair. Fforde has been compared to everyone from Monty Python to Douglas Adams to Charles Dickens to Lewis Carroll. while its blatant silliness, complete lack of reverence for any form of canonical lore, unusual characters, comic grotesqueness, and distortion of the laws of physics and time may bring all this to mind, the mere fact should not Get Lost: Fforde is an original, totally unlike anything readers have encountered before. If you like the idea of a world where Dorian Gray comes across as a dodgy used car salesman, then you’ll appreciate the work of Jasper Fforde. that he is mischievous, restless, manic, charming, eccentric, quirky, and erudite is undeniable. but none of these words quite capture him. then again, that might not be much of a problem; if fforde continues like this, he has every chance of entering the English language as an adjective.
garan holcombe, 2007