Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde

The first Thursday Next story was reviewed here several years ago, but in the latest Thursday becomes a librarian and that cannot be ignored. Fforde applies his unique brand of whimsical satire to the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library Service. Of course, this is an alternate reality where libraries have huge budgets and librarians are covered by a law permitting “Justifiable Lethal Force by a State-Registered Librarian in the Course of His or Her Duties.”

Someone is destroying selected pages from ancient but worthless books by St. Zvlkx and the librarians are determined to stop it. Someone is creating clones of Thursday, which seems ominous but is often useful, though they do keep getting killed. Thursday's genius daughter is trying to create an Anti-Smite Shield to protect Swindon from the wrath of God, when she's not sending dodos to explore the unknown realm of Dark Reading Matter. Thursday's son is trying to understand why he is destined to murder someone on Friday according to the Letter of Destiny he received from the disbanded time-traveling ChronoGuards. And Thursday's husband has a mind worm courtesy of their vanished arch-enemy Aornis.

Fforde pulls this all tidily together with nary a dropped plot thread, but it's his gift for humor that lies somewhere between Terry Pratchett and Monty Python that creates addicted fans. “I was just wondering–in vain–what else I could do to lessen the fact that I might not be mad enough to run SpecOps when I noticed that the previous certificate had Commander Smalls's name on it, and by expertly reading upside down–a skill I'd advise for anyone working in a wheezing bureaucracy–I saw that she had indeed been listed as NUT-4.” The Thursday Next series could be called meta-fiction, a story about story. This sort of fiction shows up more often in children's literature, like Norman Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. Terry Pratchett's Going Postal shares some of the same qualities as The Woman Who Died a Lot.

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