I've just discovered a fantastic new writer - well, he's new to me at any rate - and his name is Jasper Fforde. In fact, I have seen his books in the library for quite some years and through a sort of inverted snobbery have skipped over them in the past because it's always seemed rather pretentious to have a surname which begins with the same two letters of the alphabet, especially when it's only pronounced once! It turns out, however, I've been denying myself some real pleasure and I shall now be embarking on a catch up of all his other books.
I frequently listen to audio books on my walk to work and when I popped into the library last week to choose another one to borrow, there wasn't anything which immediately took my fancy until I broke the habit of many years and picked up the aforementioned Mr Fforde's audio book and after read the blurb, my interest was immediately piqued.
In an alternative Britain that's practically a police state, it's 1985. Thursday Next lives in Maida Vale with Pickwick, her regenerated pet dodo and works as an Operative for SO-27 which is the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network. The Division is responsible for bringing to justice those who would make money from counterfeit works by the literary greats such as Shakespeare, Coleridge and the like. Her latest job is to track down Acheron Hades, a master criminal who is currently entering literary manuscripts and abducting minor characters which he holds for ransom on the threat of their being executed. When that plot is foiled, Hades moves on to one of the nation's favourite novels, Jane Eyre, and captures the eponymous heroine, escaping with her into Wales and then beyond to Thornfield Hall with a determined Thursday in hot pursuit.
As you will gather from the synopsis, this book is set in an alternative reality and it's a novel which absolutely defies categorisation. It's a wonderful blend of science fiction/fantasy, crime and humour, and listening to this audio CD garnered me some very strange looks from passers-by as I toddled into work with a big grin on my face, emitting frequent sniggers and guffaws along the way.
Some of the concepts of this novel such as time travel are a little strange on first acquaintance but after a while seem perfectly plausible. We've all been lost in a good book but in Thursday's reality this happens literally. And that isn't all. Thursday's father who is a member of the ChronoGuard and who she claims "Has a face that can stop clocks", really can stop time. At the beginning of this story, he pops into her reality to share a coffee and tell her he's uncovered a problem with the Napoleonic Wars in which it now seems that Wellington and Nelson were killed at the very beginning of the fighting and Napoleon won! Thursday's father suspects this is due to French revisionists rewriting history!
All this is merely scene setting, however, because the real action here involves Thursday's attempts to bring Acheron Hades to justice and return Jane Eyre to her rightful place in Charlotte Bronte's book.
This abridged audio version of the first in the Thursday Next series is narrated by Juliet Stevenson (of Truly, Madly, Deeply fame) whose rather deadpan delivery is absolutely perfect for this story. The novel is written in the first person so Juliet Stevenson is Thursday Next and she does an excellent job of recounting this first adventure.
Thursday is a great heroine, slightly mysterious and with a very dry sense of humour. She doesn't really like her job but her prospects are limited by waiting for her boss to either move on or move out. This isn't going to happen as her boss, Inspector Turner, is looking for a wealthy Mr Right and as Thursday points out "As so often happens, Mr Right turned out to be either Mr Liar, Mr Drunk or Mr Already Married."
Obviously, the story is told in a very tongue in cheek way which means that the characters, especially the evil Acheron Hades, are larger than life and not the most realistic you'll ever come across but they are all just so darned entertaining. It's like listening to Dr Who, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and a Sherlock Holmes mystery all rolled into one.
The story is peppered with literary references which come thick and fast and I'm going to get a physical copy of the book so I can check them all out at leisure because I'm sure I missed a huge proportion of them and I also want to check out what was left out of this abridged recording. Given that it has all these literary references, this isn't as highbrow as you might think but is pure, unadulterated and nonsensical fun very much in the tradition of Monty Python and I loved it.
I borrowed this 3 CD version from the library so I'm unsure how much it costs to buy, although it seems to be selling for about £50 on Amazon! If I'm honest, an audio version of this book is probably not the best format because whilst listening there were many occasions when I wanted to check out one of the many literary references which isn't quite as easy when listening to a CD especially when on the move. However, there are paperback versions available from 1p and it's also available in Kindle format for £4.99.
If you have a highly developed sense of the ridiculous and enjoy well written nonsense, you'll love this book. As for me, I'm kicking myself for disregarding Mr Fforde for all this time and I'm filled with excitement at the prospect of reading more about Thursday Next and her literary investigations.