03 April 2007

Light Weight Reading

Kris gave her little brother David a book, and I read it first. David was a little busy with Japanese, philosophy, calculus, and other academic things.

The cover of Jasper Fforde's book The Eyre Affair quotes a Wall Street Journal review saying that the book “combines elements of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer…” As Dan Conrad demonstrated on these pages once some time ago, we all should be suspicious of excerpts from reviews, but in this case the excerpt is an understatement. Fforde's book also contains elements of Saturday Night Live, Xena, Warrior Princess, The Simpsons, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, Pee Wee's Playhouse, and even a bit of Twilight Zone. And then there's a passel of bad “near-puns.”

I keep saying that I don't like improbabilities. Everything in this book is improbable. And I still was entertained. The main character is Thursday Next. The New York Times reviewer said she's “part Bridget Jones, part Nancy Drew, and part Dirty Harry.” You should now have the idea that Fforde's inspirations are improbable too.

It's set in Great Britain in the 1980s, but it's a 1980s where no one has invented airplanes or computers. Literature is secularly sacred, and people travel into books and poems. People also travel through time. But if a literary or time traveler messes with written art, the penalties are severe. Thursday Next is a literary detective, hunting down forgers and people who change novels because they don't like the original endings.

Thursday's assignment in Fforde's novel is to track down a villain who kidnapped Jane Eyre from the Bronte novel. What did I tell you about improbable? How about trapping the bad guy in Poe's The Raven? Well, there is Thursday's pet dodo bird. It, like all the other pet dodos in Great Britain were cloned from salvaged DNA. Oh, and in Fforde's world, Wales is an independent kingdom that guards its borders with England fiercely. That last part is just dreaming on the part of Welshman Fforde.

The Eyre Affair was enjoyable enough that I bought Fforde's second book when I found it on the overstock table at River City Books. Lost in a Good Book continues where The Eyre Affair left off. But now, Thursday Next's husband has been kidnapped into a book somewhere and the bad guys want their hero out of The Raven. Detective Next journeys into Great Expectations and becomes an apprentice to Miss Havisham, who, when she's not busy in her role as the disappointed bride, is one of the key players who maintains order in the world of literature and the “real” world. It also seems that Thursday's father, a renegade time traveler, has encountered one time stream where the world ends in a gooey mess next week. More of the improbabilities and bad jokes and puns.

Once in awhile something made me take notice of some “real” world absurdity to match the absurdities of Jasper Fforde's world. I read these books for the most part on planes between Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Eugene, Oregon and back. They were good plane ride reading. They'd probably be good on the beach or in front of the fire. A fine escape from “reality.” Tell us what you think.

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