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Friday, October 13, 2006

Author and authority: Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is the author of The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, which I have read, as well as other novels that I have yet to see. Both of these works feature Thursday Next, who is in a sort of secret service in the UK, in an alternate earth (There are some differences -- Thursday is surprised to find that we use jetliners, rather than grav-tubes, for long-distance travel, but there is a great deal of similarity) in the 1980s. (See here for an interview with Fforde. See here for his web site, which is a lot like his books, and here for the Wikipedia article on this author.)

As might be expected from the name of the heroine, Fforde's writing is light-hearted. His books make no attempt to be serious science fiction, like that of, say, Joe Haldeman. You don't have to suspend disbelief to read Fforde. You just read, but you often chuckle as you do. Many of the characters have humorous names. The villain is Jack Schitt, for example. The bureaucracy that Thursday works for gets funding for advertising various branches of the Goliath corporation, which owns nearly everything. Employees of the corporation are required to perform brief acts of worship upon entering the headquarters.

Characters in these books can navigate through time, and even enter fictional works, with the right equipment. Characters in the fictional works in Fforde's fictional works can enter the same real world as Thursday Next inhabits, at least for short periods. As I say, it's all in fun. But there are interesting ideas raised, and there are a lot of literary references. It helps reading, although it isn't necessary, to know English literature. (I'm pretty sure Fforde has made up some of the British literature in the books, but certainly not all. There's Dickens, and, of course, Jane Eyre.)

What interesting ideas? Well, I quoted passages on dying and love in a previous post. Then there's the question of how much freedom fictional characters can have:
"Goodness me no!" exclaimed Marianne with a delightful giggle. "The chapter is over, and besides, this book is written in the third person. We are free to do what we please until tomorrow morning, when we depart for Devon. The next two chapters are heavy with exposition -- I hardly have anything to do, and I say even less! You look confused, poor thing! Have you been into a book before?"
"I went into Jane Eyre once."
Marianne frowned overdramatically.
"Poor, dear, sweet Jane! I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people reading your thoughts! Here we do what we are told but think what we wish. It is a much happier circumstance, believe me!" - Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel (New York: Viking, 2002) p. 280. Thursday Next talking to a character from a book entitled Norland Park.

"I know what you're thinking," he said sadly. "No one thinks much of Daphne Farquitt, but she sells a lot of books and she's always been pretty good to me -- apart from the chapter where I ravish the serving girl at Potternews Hall and then callously have her turned from the house. I didn't want to do it, believe me." - Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel (New York: Viking, 2002) p. 299. Thursday Next talking to Vernham Deane, who says he's the "resident cad of The Squire of High Potternews." (p. 298) Daphne Farquitt is an author made up by Fforde.

As usual, I don't want to give away the plots of these books, and they have plots. They're great entertainment. I plan to read The Well of Lost Plots soon. Thanks for reading.

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