ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING
By Jasper Fforde
Viking, 384 pages, $25.95
Updated: June 11, 2011 5:08AM
If the characters in bestselling literary fantasist Jasper Fforde’s BookWorld think that slipping into the RealWorld is a disorienting experience, they should try entering his Thursday Next series for the first time as a living, breathing, nontextual Human — that’s you and me, folks. Intravenously connected to a vast wellspring of literary allusions, name drops and puns, Fforde has no mercy on uninitiated readers. There’s no squeezing the IV tube to slow the streaming references down and figure out who is who in One of Our Thursdays is Missing, what is what and where is where.
It’s easy enough to grasp that the characters in the BookWorld have jobs acting out the stories Real people read, and suffer when the all-important Read-O-Meter indicates interest in the books has faded. But even explaining the title of One of Our Thursdays is Missing requires time and effort. Thursday Next, or Real Thursday, is a female literary detective who slips into the pages of BookWorld from her home in Swindon, England, to chase runaway characters back into the books they fled. One of her previous cases involved no less lost a character than Hamlet. This time, she herself has vanished, a week before peace talks to avert a genre war — tensions between Racy Novel and Women’s Fiction are at an all-time high — and it’s up to her BookWorld surrogate, “written Thursday,” to find her.
The good news for Fforde neophytes (seasoned Ffans might want to leave this page and the island of Artistic Criticism for a place where they aren’t at risk from “a blanketing layer of almost impenetrable bullshit”) is that the new novel features a completely remade BookWorld. We’re in on the beginning of the Council of Genres’ relocation of books from an unwieldy central library to hundreds of categorical islands. The bad news for written Thursday and the other inhabitants of Fiction island is a monstrous plot involving the murderous Men in Plaid. With the help of her mechanical sidekick, Sprocket, she blasts into the RealWorld to find Real Thursday. Her efforts are complicated by envy issues: She was written to be “softer and kinder” than her model.
There is no denying Fforde’s supersized imagination, linguistic agility and love of books, Books, BOOKS. One of Our Thursdays is Missing is crowded with both classical references (he tweaks Russian literature for its of clusters of impossible to distinguish names) and bestseller citings (Shreve Plaza and Picoult Junction are suggestively close). Dickens and the great, deleted Samuel Pepys; Hemingway and FitzGerald; Ludlum and Grisham; Lord of the Rings and I, Robot — no era or genre or style of books gets left out.
If Fforde has a notable failing, one that should concern seasoned followers and newcomers alike, it’s that he doesn’t write very convincingly or naturally from a female point of view. Alice in Wonderland is an acknowledged source of inspiration, but there’s at best a muted womanly voice at work in the Thursdays, even in the scenes in which written Thursday finds herself drawn to Real Thursday’s husband, Landon. Even in a novel as rich in borrowings as this one is, secondhand sensibilities are not enough.
Lloyd Sachs is a local free-lance writer.