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Monday, March 4, 2013

Thursday Next rocks! (But can high school kids understand this series?)

      A ton of people I deeply respect have been recommending the Thursday Next series to me and I finally got around to reading one.  I accidentally ordered the second one in the series, Lost in a Good Book (Forde, Jasper, 2003, Viking)and I am sure that it would have better for me to have started with the first one, The Eyre Affair.  But I don't care, the book I read was absolutely wonderful.
     The problem, of course, is how to describe it.  Thursday Next is a detective who works for a branch of the British police/secret service, in a division called SpecOps (short for Special Operations.)  In the earlier book, she apparently went through a portal, created by an uncle of hers, and was able to enter the book Jane Eyre and fix the ending.  As Lost in a Good Book opens, Thursday is living happily with her husband and trying to avoid having to be on talk shows.  When her husband is erased from the timestream by persons or corporate entities unknown, she is drawn into an intrigue that involves botht he division of the law enforcement community that deals with time travel and also a separate inter-dimensional police force that makes sure no one monkeys about with the plotlines of favorite novels.  It is a time-travel mystery involving a lost play of Shakespeare's, the threat of death by coincidence, and evil corporation that could turn all life in the world to sugary syrup, and the need to free the genetically-enslaved neanderthals.
     I know.  It sounds ridiculous.  In fact, though, the author, Jasper Forde has created a world that is wonderfully ridiculous and somehow utterly believable.  I loved the small details -- like the genetically re engineered woolly mammoths that migrate from one end of England to the other each spring, or Thursdays pet Dodo bird.  I loved the horrible puns involved in the names of the minor characters -- two detectives named Konnon and Phodder die in a suspicious linoleum accident and are replaced by two other characters named Chalk and Cheese, who in turn get replaced by Lamme and Slorter.  I also loved the utterly gripping plot.  It became remarkably important to me that Thursday get her husband back.  I would make comparisons to Hitchhiker's Guide but this is a very different kind of book.   

      Okay, look, let me just describe one scene to you.  At one point in the book, Thursday must appear before a court in the bookworld.  She is unsure what her crime is and she has only been able to communicate with her lawyer through footnotes.  She seems a bit apprehensive until her lawyer tells her that the judge she will be brought before is the judge from Kafa's The Trial.  There is some confusion at first because when Thursday appears at her appointed time, the Judge tells her she is an hour and five minutes late.  Because Thursday has read Kafka, she does not disagree but apologizes.  The prosecution proceeds with the case until the judge interrupts and asks if Thursday has ever been a house painter.   She confesses that she has been a house painter.  This results in a string of non-sequiturs, all turning increasingly in Thursday's favor until, toward the end of the scene,  At that point, the prosecutor, Hopkins, has ended up in contempt of court.  Then there is this:
          "But this is preposterous!" shouted Hopkins as he was carried away. 
           "No, replied the Magistrate, "This is Kafka."
     So if you have read Kafka, you probably found that funny.  If you didn't -- well, this is the one problem with this wonderful book.  To fully appreciate it, you really need to have read a lot of books.  A partial list of the books alluded to in Lost in a Good Book includes:  The Once and Future king, Ivanhoe, Paradise Lost, Pamela, Pilgrim's Progress, Sense and Sensibility, The Little Prince, The Merchant of Venice, The Faerie Queen, The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Henry V, Alice in Wonderland, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby Dick, The Odyssey, Sherlock Holmes, and so on.  All of the allusions are very clever, but this book might not work so well for even a very enthusiastic high school reader because it is unlikely they would have read quite that widely.  On the other hand, maybe they could enjoy the story and the references they do catch -- knowing that when they reread it in a few years, they will get even more out of it.
     As for me, I thought it was great. 


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