Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Book cover of
Book cover via Amazon

I have been trying to put my finger on why I didn’t like the first installment of the Thrusday Next series by Jasper Fforde.  I mean I like satire and books that blend or bend genres.  But I have now finished another book in the series, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, and althoug I liked it better I can’t say I am a fan.

So what happened?  Well, I think it has to do with the style and the lead character.  You either like them of you don’t.  And for whatever reason, I got off on the wrong foot and never really enjoyed either.

For those of you unfamiliar with things, allow me crib the plot from Kirkus Reviews:

Thursday Next returns in another postmodern literary detective fantasy from Fforde (The Big Over Easy, 2005, etc.). Once again, the author creates a world in which only permeable boundaries separate truth from fiction, the living from the dead (or extinct: Thursday knits a sweater for her pet dodo, Pickwick). Our heroine revisits places and people from earlier Fforde novels, as well as from an immoderate number of English and American classics-one memorable page contains allusions to The Woman in White, Robert Ludlum, Jason Bourne, Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Although the Special Operations Network has nominally been shut down, in reality Thursday works undercover with Acme Carpets and on the side runs an underground cheese market, featuring such tempting morsels as Mynachlog-ddu Old Contemptible, “kept in a glass jar because it will eat through cardboard or steel.” Thursday embarks on a dizzying set of adventures through fictive territory. Untoward things have been happening in the literary world. For example, the natural comedy in Thomas Hardy novels has mysteriously been removed-Jude the Obscure originally began as one of the most “rip-roaringly funny novels in the English Language”-and Thursday travels through space and time to rectify this situation. Her contemporaries are not as interested in reading as they are in watching reality TV shows like England’s Funniest Chainsaw Mishaps or Samaritan Kidney Swap. Meanwhile, Thursday has to deal with Friday, her teenaged lump of a son, whose main goals in life are sleeping and forming a band called The Gobshites.

In case you are wondering, yes there is a lot going on in this novel.

My take on the character and style issues noted above below the fold.

As alluded to above, there is a lot going on in these books.  A ton of references and adventures/plots happening and often not connecting in any real clear way.  Because of this I think the series is one you will either dive into and enjoy or find off putting and not continue.

Personally, I don”t find Thursday Next a strong central character, but haughty, self-righteous, and not particularly funny.  I could neither sympathize with her nor cheer her on.  Perhaps this is not a sophisticated way to approach it, but I just never bought into her as a character.  And since she is focus of the entire series it didn’t really work for me.

The style and structure didn’t help.  There is a great deal of activity but I didn’t find that it was cleverly all brought together in the end.  Instead, various subplots just seem to swirl around at various points without contributing to the overall focus of the story.  And that was one of my problems with the books: they don’t seem to have a clear plot that drives the story.

Let me steal from Kirkus again:

While Fforde’s humor can be affecting, it can also grate with its self-consciousness, as the author nudges readers to admire his verbal dexterity. Vertiginous cleverness here proves to be almost too much of a good thing.

Exactly.  It is as if Fforde feel the need to cram as much fun in as he can, but too often this fun gets the plot off track, destroys the pacing, and leaves the reader wondering what that was all about.

All of this is starting to sound a little harsh.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t despise these books.  I will admit they are clever and include a lot of imagination.  But overall I was disappointed that they didn’t live up to what I thought was the potential.

I guess it comes down to expectations again.  I was expecting a creative and popular series like this to grab my attention and hold it; to make me want to read the next book as soon as I finished the previous one.  But I just didn’t have that experience.

If I had to say it in one word it would be underwhelmed.  But as always, your mileage may vary.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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