Monday, December 21, 2009

Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, The Big Over Easy, and The Fourth Bear

a review i wrote some years back about ffords other series'

So I will continue with the thread of reviewing lit on lit. Except this time it’s not a review of a critique, but delving into the world of literary characters becoming real life individuals in the stories by Jasper Fforde. He has two major series, both of which center on the respective heroes, Thurday Next and Jack Spratt.

The Thursday Next series begins with The Eyre Affair, in which a maniacal villain alters the plotlines of major literary works, e.g. Jane Eyre, for evil and world ending intentions. Now I had not read Jane Eyre beforehand (an abomination I know, but the Bronte sisters have never been my favorite writing team, I’m more of a Coen brothers fan if we are talking sibling writing duos.) Anyway, I think it would behoove someone to read Jane Eyre first, because the twists and alterations of the plot would be better appreciated if the reader knew what they were supposed to be in the first place. However, I don’t think it really took anything away for me (and I would still rather not wade through
scores of pages of chance meetings and romantic misunderstandings.) The Eyre Affair itself was fantastic, merging an ever so real and obvious disgust with pointless wars *clearing of the throat* with a detective escapade that weaves in and out of literary history. The character Detective Thursday Next is quite the heroine, strong and capable, but not without her own set of emotional issues, which only make her more charming. When the book wrapped up, I went right to the nearest bookstore to pick up the next in the series (there are 5 more books, the most recent due out July 2007. However, as luck would have it Lost in a Good Book was sold out, so I began The Big Over Easy, which is Fford’s move from literary manipulations to Nursery Crime (play of words on nursery rhyme for those a little slow on the uptake).

A different feel to this series, although the main character Jack Spratt is the lovable and honest underdog, I didn’t get the same connection as with Thursday Next. However, I still enjoyed the book immensely, and the ideas behind it still slightly genius. In Spratt’s world, he heads up the Nursery Crime Division (NCD), which deals mainly with the protection or capture of PDR’s, Persons of Dubious Reality. The Big Over Easy deals with the murder of Humpty Dumpty, a booze swilling depressed letch. It’s a good introduction to the characters and the plot methods, but I feel like the real magic doesn’t come out until the second book of the series, The Fourth Bear. By the time the reader reaches this point, they have already become familiar with the characters and more attention can be paid to the story. Both books of this series have criminal elements that are at some times predictable but then become so convoluted that it’s difficult to remember who is who. More than once I had to flip back a few chapters to remind myself which corrupt corporation was being discussed, or which seemingly innocent character now may be the evil mastermind. Then as if by magic Detective Jack Spratt suddenly knows exactly who the bad guy is and how to catch them and save the world. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, a story laced with nursery rhyme characters would be expected to be wrapped up in a neat little bow by the conclusion of the book. And a nice little addition to the second book is the internal struggle that Detective Spratt has with his own questionable reality. The bottom line is that while reading all of Fforde’s books there where multiple times that I found myself literally slapping the book against my leg, so moved by the wit that was just so perfect, intelligent yet completely unguarded. The characters make fun of themselves on more than one occasion, and the best jokes are totally simple. When Detective Spratt asks the character Vinnie (who happens to be a bear) if he can get him past a pretty intimidating line of police officers, Vinnie smiles and replies, “Do I shit in the woods?” Infantile maybe, but if you don’t crap up (I mean crack up, I swear that was a real typo) than I’ll eat my…well… not that… but how bout my book…

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