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The Woman Who Died A Lot, by Jasper Fforde

August 2, 2012
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Jasper Fforde might be my favourite author that no one’s ever heard of. His book are a particular joy for people who like books.

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The Woman Who Died A Lot is the seventh in the Thursday Next series of books. If you are unfamiliar with the books, you may get somewhat confused. I’ll try and write slowly for you. As well as the rather bizarre real world of Swindon, there exists a Bookworld, where characters mingle between their scenes, plot-craft is an industry and metaphor is traded as a commodity. However, this book doesn’t go there so we’ll just put that to one side.

After the events of One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Thursday Next returns to the real world to recuperate. Now in late middle age, she’s not as spry as she used to be. A badly healed femur only compounds this. The Woman Who Died A Lot deals with the events of a week that culminates in (we are told) the smiting of Swindon from on high, a re-organisation of Wessex Library services and Thursday’s son Friday murdering Gavin Watkins. The events that lead to this conclusion involve synthetic human replicas (a la The Sixth Day), the destruction of rare books by a shady multinational corporation, and ponderings over time-travel and destiny. It’s hard to give any kind of precis without relating the exact plot. As with most of Jasper Fforde’s books, things happen for apparently no reason but resolve themselves into a plot in a climax that draws them together.

As a fan of Fforde’s work, I usually allow for this but even I failed to see a point in this book. A not-insubstantial part of me worries that this ‘series’ will degenerate into simply a series of events that happen, no matter how fantastic.

However, the plot has never been the highlight of Jasper Fforde’s oeuvre, even in his narratively tighter works. Instead, it is his beautifully lyrical use of language and the logically illogical fantasy of the worlds that he creates. He is most reminiscent of Douglas Adams, except his book are set in Swindon instead of space. He also writes as meta-fiction, fan-fiction to all of fiction. In Something Rotten, Hamlet (On sabbatical from the Bookworld) reflects on all his different on-screen portrayals and the ‘true’ interpretation of his tortured psyche. That was a particularly overt example, compared to the stream of subtle nods and criticism.

While I enjoyed The Woman Who Died A Lot, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it was all a bit directionless. While the thrust of the plot has flagged, Fforde’s wit, style and humour remain perfectly on-key. It is probably unnecessary for me to recommend this to anyone as invested in Thursday Next as myself since they will probably read it anyway. To those naive to Jasper Fforde, I can heartily recommend him as an author, a joy to read. However, just as you shouldn’t learn to swim by jumping in the deep end of the pool, this is not the book to start with.

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