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'The Woman Who Died a Lot': the new adventures of Thursday Next
Welsh author Jasper Fforde's new novel, "The Woman Who Died a Lot," is the latest installment in the wildly inventive series featuring literary detective Thursday Next. Fforde discusses his book in conversation with Nancy Pearl on Monday at Town Hall Seattle.
Special to The Seattle Times
Jasper FfordeThe author of "The Woman Who Died a Lot" will discuss his work in conversation with Nancy Pearl at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave. Advance tickets are $24 (including a copy of the book) or $5 at brownpapertickets.com, at 800-838-3006 and at the door beginning at 6.30 p.m.
Note: Autographed copies of books are available only after the event.
The Welsh writer Jasper Fforde's wildly inventive books defy easy description — more accurately, they mercilessly mock the concept of easy description. Are they mysteries? Outrageous parodies of literary classics? Science fiction? Absurdist humor? Gleeful mashups of all the above?
Answer: Yes. Certainly. Sort of. Maybe.
The prolific Fforde (and is that a great name, or what?) has created several alternative worlds, set in the no man's land between highbrow literature and lowbrow baloney. There's nothing quite like them, although faint whiffs can be detected of Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut and Fforde's avowed literary hero, Lewis Carroll.
To service these alternative worlds, the author has several series, including the Nursery Crimes books about cops who specialize in nursery rhymes. These characters investigate a variety of misdeeds (the suspicious death of Humpty Dumpty, stolen porridge, etc.).
But Fforde's best-known books are those starring literary detective Thursday Next. On Thursday's turf, two regions called BookWorld and RealWorld, time and history are surprisingly elastic, as is the porous border between fiction and "real life."
It seems that fiction exists, but with a twist. It requires a huge, jury-rigged, complex storytelling technology, and all of the characters are actors. As soon as a RealWorld reader stops perusing a given book, BookWorld actors can relax and go about their own lives.
But books are vulnerable, and sometimes BookWorld actors go rogue, with disastrous results as plots change radically. That's when Thursday steps in. Working for a shadowy agency called SpecOps, she jumps between the "real" world and BookWorld to make things right.
But in "The Woman Who Died A Lot" (Viking, 384 pages, $26.95), Thursday is no longer a daredevil enforcer. Recovering from a serious injury sustained in her previous adventure, she's been assigned to work in the All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library in her hometown of Swindon.
It's mostly a dull and demeaning gig, though not without surprises and risks. For one thing, a scarily efficient rival has Thursday's old job, and our girl wants it back. Then there's the dangerously low National Stupidity Surplus (don't ask), and the evil empire known as the Goliath Corporation, which has its own nefarious plans to create Thursday clones. Not to mention the Pagerunners who have jumped from BookWorld to RealWorld.
Thursday has other problems, too: a daughter who doesn't exist (well, not quite) and a malfunctioning Anti-Smite Shield, meant to protect towns from a really pissed-off God, who is threatening to send down lightning bolts and worse.
"Woman" is overlong, and the relentless barrage of sprightly humor can be a little wearing. Also, there are disappointingly few of Fforde's patented footnotes. But it's still big, big fun, with enough in-jokes to keep anyone snickering for a long time — especially English Lit geeks.
By the way: Don't miss Fforde's website. Its extensive offerings include wry blogs, a sweet message from his mother, an artist's impression of a smiting, a merchandising section maintained by the Goliath Corporation, and an explanation of why his books never have a Chapter Thirteen.
Speaking of merchandising, a note to Mr. Fforde: I'm still pining for one of those Eject-O-Hats. When do they go on sale?
Adam Woog's crime fiction column runs on the second Sunday of each month in The Seattle Times.