16 September 2013

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Saturday night I finished reading Jasper Fforde's latest book in the Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a Fforde Ffan. I found his books accidentally. When I was in college I was at a large, well known bookstore and saw a book called The Eyre Affair on the bargain book rack. I'd read Jane Eyre many times, so I was intrigued. When I read that the basis of the story was that Jane had been kidnapped out of her book, I snatched up that book and haven't looked back.

Though this latest TN book has been out for a while, and I've had it for a while, I didn't get to reading it until last week. I won't make excuses. It just didn't happen. Still, it was worth waiting for.

The story begins in 2004. After surviving an assassination attempt in One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Thursday Next has been forced into semi-retirement from SpecOps, is unable to bookjump due to her leg injury, and is encouraged strongly by husband Landen to slow down.

Trouble seems to follow Thursday, though, and despite her attempts at a quiet life, Jack Schitt is up to something at Goliath, Synthetic Thursdays are popping up, Aornis Hades has given Thursday a daughter who doesn't exist, her son Friday is mourning the career he would have had (or did have, or will have) in the ChronoGuard, and her daughter Tuesday is struggling to get the Anti-Smiting Shield up and running before Swindon's scheduled smiting on Friday.

It makes more sense if you've read the other books in the series, I promise.

This story reminded me a bit of The Eyre Affair in some ways. Because of the gap between TN6 and TN7, it sort of feels like the first book in a new series. So there is a bit of a ramp up before things really get going. Fforde has to introduce new characters and update the reader on what's been happening and where we are in Thursday's life. Although, I will say The Woman Who Died A Lot did not feel as exposition-y as The Well of Lost Plots did. That one felt slower to me.

Still, Fforde does not disappoint. Like his other TN books that take place outside the BookWorld, Fforde creates a parallel world to what we know as reality for Thursday to live in (and protect). This time one major aspect of the story is the smitings that have been occurring since God has revealed Himself to the world (unifying all religions under one and changing the minds of atheists).

In Lost in a Good Book, Thursday's father offers to sideslip his daughter to another reality. (His description sounds remarkably like our reality, by the way). This reference to another dimension is expanded in The Woman Who Died A Lot, since it is proven that there are other dimensions and universes, and they work together in some aspects, particularly in trade. Some are quite different (one dimension is very much like reality except everyone has two heads), and some strange aspects of our reality are explained through this multiverse theory (for example, Aldi is the result of a multiverse trade, which is why you don't recognize any of the brand names).

As is the expectation with Fforde, the crazy and confusing threads of the story seemed to pull themselves together as the story progressed. Through much of the book I was saying, "What the frak?" when something would happen, but by the end, it made sense. And not in a cheesy way, in my opinion.

However, another aspect of the story that can't be ignored is that Thursday is a different person now. Not only is she older (55 years old, to be exact), but she is the mom of two teenagers and one young girl of dubious existence. Her allegiances are to her community, to the written word, to the continuation of humanity, but also to her children, who are finding their own ways in the world. She's realizing she's different, and is trying to hold on to who she once was while still trying to make who she is work. She's hard on herself because of it.

I think I enjoyed the book more because of the time in my life that I'm reading it. I'm not retiring, and I'm not the mom to teens, but I'm going through a major transition in my life, finding my new place. And that's what's going on with Thursday in this book. She's sort of retired, she can't do what she did before due to physical limitations, and her children are much more important to her than anything else. I can relate to that.

In addition to the Thursday Next series, Fforde is the author of the Nursery Crime books (The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear), Shades of Grey, and his young adult series (The Last Dragonslayer and Song of the Quarkbeast). He lives in Wales.

Thursday will return for her next adventure in Dark Reading Matter.

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