JASPER FFORDE: reinventing the world

(Rick Kleffel)

10 Rules for Writing

When I first told Capitola Book Café that I had snagged Jasper Fforde as a guest for the March version of The Agony Column Live, they were concerned. “Are you sure you can keep up with him, Rick?” I was asked. “He’s kind of like a stand-up comedian.” “Kind of?” I replied. “He’s smarter and faster than most comedians — and funnier.” Left unsaid was, “That just makes my job all the easier.”

And, as those who were there can attest, my job, as it were, was incredibly easy. It was really a joy to see Jasper again, and the standing-room-only crowd at the Capitola Book Café seemed to agree. I have to say that it was kind of like a peculiar version of a homecoming. And not least because Jasper and I once again found ourselves talking about a Thursday Next novel.

For me the homecoming aspect is that Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair was one of the incept points for this column ten years ago. In honor of the first place I found the book mentioned, I called up Michael over at Legends Books and ordered some Fforde limiteds. The joy of discovering a book like The Eyre Affair was one of the drivers that has kept me writing, interviewing and podcasting for nearly ten years. I remember hesitantly approaching him at this first appearance in the US, and our many conversations since.

This time around, we talked first about his newest book, and the Thursday Next series. Even though he’s been writing the series for ten years, he still manages to have a fresh approach. His comment on why he revised, as it were, Bookworld, is priceless.

Now, our conversation might not have run its course in a reasonable amount of time, so I did eventually turn it over to the audience and insisted, for the most part, on a decorous approach that asked them to queue up and approach the microphone. That yielded some of the best material, including a wonderful ten rules for writers, which you’ll hear if you follow this link to the MP3 audio file.

And here is the video:


Rick Kleffel’s review of One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Re-Inventing the World

“Remaking the world” isn’t just a turn of phrase for Jasper Fforde — it’s a plot point in One of Our Thursdays is Missing (Viking / Penguin Putnam ; March 6, 2011 ; $25.95), the sixth entry in his popular series featuring literary detective Thursday Next. For ten years, starting with the publication of The Eyre Affair, Fforde has been working in his own genre, and in the process, anticipating quite a few trends, some of which later became fashionable in the wider literary and artistic landscape. One of Our Thursdays is Missing makes some of these connections explicit while it re-invents Fforde’s fictional world. Fforde once again indulges and challenges his readers with a unique opportunity to luxuriate in language and reading.

If you’ve never encountered Thursday Next and the idea of a series of novels set in an alternate England where a literary detective hops in and out of novels to keep characters in line sounds like your cuppa, then you are best advised to begin at the beginning, the aforementioned novel The Eyre Affair. If you’ve been in from the beginning, then rest assured that Fforde himself has definitely not been at rest. One of Our Thursdays is Missing is every bit as lively and inventive as its predecessors. Novels offer boundless opportunities for innovation, and Fforde is a restless, relentless innovator.

“Everyone can remember where they were when the Bookworld was remade,” the novel begins—and so does the wordplay. Fforde’s story fires off with a war brewing in the Bookworld. What was once a library is now, literally, a world, and the genres of Fiction Island are getting het up over border disputes; Racy Novel and Women’s Fiction are in a bit of a dust-up. Thursday Next is needed, but she’s nowhere to be found. Fortunately, she’s been a character in the previous novels in the series, so there’s a “Written Thursday” who can step in. She’s tasked not just with taking up where Thursday is needed, but finding her original as well. With the help of Sprocket, a mechanical sidekick, she’s got to get to the heart of some mysterious doings that involve the Men in Plaid and Fortean falls of text from the sky. Fforde knows how to plot well, creating tension and excitement in his imaginary world that translate to real-world readers turning the pages at a brisk pace.

Of course, a big part of the fun of Fforde’s work is his incredible prose. He’s certainly among the wittiest and most skilled parodists working today, and One of Our Thursdays is Missing shows he’s in fine form. Whether he’s going after the Russian greats, J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, current bestsellers or the politics of the moment, Fforde manages to be incisive without being bitter or cynical. The wordplay is always fun to read and very funny, but it’s also smart and sophisticated. There’s a sweet silliness that pervades this and the other novels in the series. Fforde is able be funny without being mean, and that’s rather more difficult than one night imagine.

Sprocket, Thursday’s clockwork sidekick, is an interesting addition to the series, as he helps bring into focus Fforde’s innovative use of what is now called the steampunk genre. Fforde has been working in this mode from the beginning of this series, using Rube-Goldberg machinery to explain the psychology of reading. His alternate history, which he admirably keeps well in the background, also emphasizes some topsy-turvy technological developments. And the style of the novels themselves, which are written in the form of fun adventures, also speaks to this style. It’s not surprising, then, that Fforde and his readers have a lot of fun with the clockwork creation sent to be Thursday’s sidekick.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing also functions as a mind-blowing literary mashup, with a cut-and-paste combination of clips that will remind readers just how rich and important the Public Domain is. Fforde’s Thursday Next novels are gifts to readers, and even if you haven’t read all the classics that get a nod in his work, he’s good enough to ensure that at least you get the joke. And the most astonishing aspect of all of this is that Fforde manages to write without a whiff of pretention. If you’re reading for Ffun, then Fforde’s your man and One of Our Thursdays is Missing is your sort of book. Chances are, you’ll remember where you were when you read the first line.