One of Our Thursdays is Jasper Fforde’s new release in the Thursday Next series. I’m having a hard time describing this series, and an even harder time reviewing this book. No one writes like Jasper Fforde. He’s been compared to Douglas Adams but even that’s kind of a stretch. His books are kind of the adult version of The Phantom Tollbooth, with adventure and time travel thrown in. Bottom line: if your tastes range from fantasy to science fiction to classic literature to humor, these are the books for you.
Here’s a short description of the series. The Thursday Next series is set in two worlds – an alternate version of Great Britain in 1985, and the world inside books. In Book One of the series, The Eyre Affair, Next is a Spec-Ops agent in the Literary Division, investigating a notorious criminal (Acheron Hades) who is holding book characters for ransom and threatening to permanently alter some of the world’s great literature. When he threatens to take Jane Eyre, Next is forced to go into the book and stop him.
If you haven’t read these books, then stop reading this review and go pick up The Eyre Affair.
One of Our Thursdays is the sixth book in this series. To describe it, I need to backtrack a little as it features a character introduced in Book Five named Thursday Five (I’ll call her Five or this gets pretty confusing). Five is Thursday Next’s literary counterpart. Thursday’s adventures in books one through four made her famous, so now a series of books have been written about her. Unfortunately the Thursday character was written as overly sexy and violent, which sold lots of books, but didn’t make Thursday Next terribly happy. So Thursday decided to correct the problem by “recasting” a kindler, gentler Thursday. Five is nice, calm, socially conscious, and timid to a fault. In Book Five, Thursday tries to teach Five to become an agent but she fails miserably because she isn’t willing to kill any villains. And unfortunately, now the books aren’t being read so much either.
One of Our Thursdays is pretty different from the other books in the series in two ways: first, Book World has been totally reconstructed. It is now set in a geographic landscape similar to ours, so that genres like Crime and Conspiracy border each other (though less than harmoniously) and instead of hopping from book to book, characters take taxis and boats to reach other genres. Fforde takes us much deeper into Book World than he has in the past; in fact very little of the book is set in the “real” world. We learn exactly what it feels like for book characters to be “read” and what they do with themselves when not being read (something you’ve probably always wondered).
The second difference is that the lead character is not Thursday Next, but Thursday Five. The plot revolves around Thursday Five’s concern that Thursday Next is missing. Thursday, who is a hero in Book World, is due to negotiate important peace talks between Racy Novel and Women’s Fiction. If these talks go badly, Book World could be plunged into war.
The book starts off a little slow, because Five is simply not as dynamic a character, and the characters Five interacts with are different from those in the previous books. But over time she starts to grow on you. She failed in the last book as a Jurisfiction agent, but in this book she is called in to investigate an accident involving the destruction of a book. She is told to file this as non-suspicious, but she finds enough clues to become concerned. During her investigation, she befriends a clockwork butler named Sprockets who turns out to be an invaluable partner. Together, they begin to do what no one expects Thursday Five to do – solve the crime, engage in heroic, life-threatening adventures, defy the dangerous Men in Plaid, and all the while try to find and rescue the missing Thursday Next.
At the same time Five must deal with a mutiny within her own book. She hires a backup Thursday to “be read” while she’s working on the investigation. This backup Thursday engages in scandalous relations with a dwarf while undermining Thursday’s status within the house.
One of the best parts of the book involves Five transporting to the real world to find out more about Thursday’s whereabouts. Fforde seems to have a glorious time explaining all the differences between real world and Book World, like gravity, smells, and conversations that don’t actually mean anything. Five is overwhelmed by the sheer number of details that exist in the real world without a narrative purpose or meaning. She has to learn such things as walking in crowds without bumping into people, a skill that book characters never have to learn (which means, as Fforde points out, that when you bump into someone in the real world, that person is most likely a recent transport from Book World).
As with the other books, be prepared for an overabundance of detail. These are fun books but not books you just sail through. If Fforde is guilty of anything, it’s creating worlds that are far too intricate. Although as he points out, most books are completely lacking in the kind of detail that makes a book feel like the real world.
I think Fforde brings new life to the series with this book (not that it was suffering) and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.