First among Sequels : a Thursday Next novel / Jasper Fforde
NY: Penguin, c2008.
I will begin by stating that I have recently read the final book in a number of different series without reading the ones preceding. Despite the fact that I've been avoiding Jasper Fforde's witty, bookish Thursday Next series, due to fears that it would be too twee or that the humour would be over the top and too obvious to be entertaining, I now freely state that I was totally wrong.
Even without reading the first 4 books, this novel was deliciously entertaining, a riot to read and to quote from. His world is a crazy confabulation of a future world similar to our own, and a whole universe inside novels. If you are one of the few (which I was) who hasn't read any Fforde yet, do yourself a favour and begin. This was a perfect holiday book, making me snort with laughter and making people around me shake their heads at my strange behaviour. (caveat: you probably don't want to read this on a crowded airplane. Just saying.)
Thursday Next is an operative for the Jurisfiction Police, which has been officially disbanded. Her cover is that she's an employee of Acme Carpets, though she never actually has to lay a carpet...well, except that once... In this adventure she has to return to the world of fiction to figure out how the mammoth Goliath Corporation is sending real world probes into the bookish universe, an advance scout for their plans for bookworld tourism. Reality television is trying to lay claim to the fictional world as well, presenting P&P as a viewer driven program called The Bennets, and Thursday has her hands full trying to maintain the integrity of the book. There are a ton of subplots to this one; something is always going on, and Thursday, along with her fictional counterparts Thursday 5 and Thursday 1-4, has to deal with it all. Here is just one throw-away idea which I found hugely entertaining:
[in a staff meeting] "Item one: an active cell of bowdlerizers has been at work again, this time in Philip Larkin and 'This be the Verse'. We've found several editions with the first line altered to read 'They tuck you up, your mum and dad', which is a gross distortion of the original intent. Who wants to have a go at this?"
In an episode dealing with P&P there is a great explanation for why, sometimes, our old favourites just don't seem to do the trick. Here, due to excessive reading, P&P has been taken in for repairs:
"If this is Pride & Prejudice," said Thursday 5 as we walked toward the Bennets' property of Longbourn, "then what are people reading in the Outland?" ...
"We divert the readings to a lesser copy on a standby Storycode Engine, and people read that," I replied, nodding a greeting to the various technicians who were trying to make good the damage wrought by the last million readings or so. "The book is never quite as good, but the only people who might see a difference are the Austen enthusiasts and scholars. They would notice the slight dulling and lack of vitality, but, unable to come to a satisfactory answer as to why this might be so, they will simply blame themselves -- a reading later in the week will once again renew their confidence in the magnificence of the novel."
I've now gone back and started at the beginning with The Eyre Affair. Thank goodness there are still three more to go. This will definitely be one of my most cherished review copies I've received lately, what with all the slips of paper sticking out of it at the parts I want to copy down. If you are a bookish person (and I know that most of my readers will be that) you will most likely find this series a rather self-referential literary romp with great amusement value. And you'll never look at Pride and Prejudice the same way again...