Main image
6th September
2009
written by Steph
But you know what's not rotten?  This book!

But you know what's not rotten? This book!

Ok, so I understand that whole “different strokes for different folks” idea – books that I love will not necessarily be universally loved by everyone else, but I have to say, when it comes to Jasper Fforde, if you love reading and you love books, then I kind of can’t compute how you wouldn’t enjoy his Thursday Next books.  And I know that you people exist out there, and have read things where people said that they just couldn’t get into The Eyre Affair, and while I of course respect that whole DSFDF principle I outlined above, I just don’t understand how you can NOT like these books.  And especially the people who say that they didn’t really find them funny, because whenever I read a Jasper Fforde novel, I am equal parts enamoured by him and hella envious because he is SO clever and witty and well-read that I can hardly stand it!  And I have seen him two or three times in person at book signings and I can tell you that he is exactly the same way in person (except add charming to the mix) and it is maddening!  I don’t know – I guess it is like how there are some people out there who don’t think Arrested Development is the funniest show ever created, when that is not even a matter of opinion but purely fact (Simona, I know this includes you, but I think it is a testament to my commitment to our friendship that I overlook this HUGE flaw on your part… At least you have finally read Harry Potter (and loved it!  Also critical!) 😉 ). Anyway, Something Rotten marks the fourth book in Fforde’s Thursday Next universe, and there’s really no point in me discussing the plot, because it’s a series, and if you haven’t read the other books then a synopsis will be meaningless, and if you HAVE read the other books (but haven’t read this one yet), then I don’t want to ruin the fun for you!  Honestly, with some of the earlier books (especially The Eyre Affair, which is definitely the most stand-alone of any of the books), I might have attempted a synopsis, but Something Rotten is especially brilliant in my opinion because of how many throwbacks it makes to previous novels in the series that if you haven’t read the books, again, you’re just missing out on so much.  On the best of days, summarizing a Fforde novel is like recapping a Monty Python episode, but here it’s especially hard.  All I can say is that while I really love all of the preceding books in the series up to this point, I was completely blown away and had so much newfound respect for Fforde due to all of the tongue-in-cheek references to the world he’s created up to this point, as well as book reading in general.  I personally love how cheeky he is, how much literature means to the denizens of his alternate Earth; to me, it’s the best possible way to pay tribute to the literary canon, and someone who obviously loves Shakespeare as much as he does can really do no wrong in my book.  I mean, I guess if you really hate puns then you should not read these books, but I’ve never gotten that “lowest form of wit” they’ve been saddled with, and seriously, if you know just one thing about me, it should be that I LOVE puns.  The badder, the better, in my opinion.  Particularly awesome in this book were all of the ridiculous names (I think we established in my Jeeves in the Morning review, that I am a sucker for hilarious names, and this time they are punny, which is even better!): of course you have Thursday Next, but then you’ve also got Millon De Floss (her officially sanctioned stalker and biographer), Adam Gnusense (Millon’s officially sanctioned stalker), and previously introduced Jack Schitt (one of Thursday’s arch nemeses).  There is also a brilliant moment that involves corrupt politician and would-be-dictator Yorrick Kaine, but I can’t say anything more for fear of ruining it.  I’ll just say that the character of Hamlet plays a huge role in this novel, and Kaine has been a longstanding character over several books, and it all culminates in a literary joke that is so amazing that my jaw dropped. This was actually a re-read for me, as the fifth book in this series (First Among Sequels) has been sitting on my shelf for something like 2 years, and I’ve yet to read it.  By the time it was released (approximately 3 years after Something Rotten), I felt like I needed to first reacquaint myself with the Nextian universe before reading on so that I could fully appreciate the next installment.  So, I’ve been slowly re-reading my way through the series, and now I’m happy to finally be prepared to embark on a new adventure! (Of course re-reading these books is no great chore, as they are so dynamic and larger than life that I definitely found on this second reading that I picked up on jokes and references that I’m sure I hadn’t the first time through.  Perhaps because I’ve read more myself since the last time I read this book, and thus have a better appreciation for some of the books Fforde alludes to.)  I can’t wait to find out what happens next, but even more, I’m so happy to know that I have in my life a series of books that not only withstand, but improve upon re-reading.  I know I’ll be able to turn to these books for numerous years to come, as they’re the absolute best thing to read when I’m feeling low or have been in a reading slump.  If any books come close to capturing how magical and wonderous the world of reading can be, surely it is these.  I think this quote from early on really encapsulates the joys of re-reading, especially when it comes to a Fforde novel:
‘Well each interpretation of an event, setting or character is unique to the person who reads it because they clothe the author’s description with the memory of their own experiences.  Every character they read is actually a complex amalgam of people that they’ve met, read or seen before – far more real than it can ever be just from the text on the page.  Because every reader’s experiences are different, each book is unique for each reader.’ ‘So’, replied the Dane, thinking hard, ‘what you’re saying is that the more complex and apparently contradictory the character, the greater the possible interpretations?’ ‘Yes.  In fact, I’d argue that every time a book is read by the same person it is different again – because the reader’s experiences are changed, or they are in a different frame of mind.’ -Thursday to Hamelt (yes, THE Hamlet); p. 22
Maybe this explains why the last time I read this book (back in 2004), I really liked it, but now I am completely blown away by it.  This book has made me want to go out and read every book in it that Fforde references, but I think I'll start with a re-read of Jane Eyre and Hamlet. One word of advice: I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair, but for those of you who weren’t quite sold or perhaps were left a little cold, rather than being utterly perplexed by you, I heartily suggest that you try the second book in the series, Lost in a Good Book.  In my opinion, this is really where the series begins, and is far more reflective of the rest of the books to come.  The Eyre Affair is a bit of a one off and doesn’t really set up many (if any) of the storylines and principles that will come to be the focus of the books.  Having read four Thursday Next books to date, I would probably consider The Eyre Affair to be my least favourite in the series thus far.  For me, this is a series that just keep getting better and better!  Sometimes I am fiercely protective of books I love, wanting them to be mine and mine alone.  But Jasper Fforde books are a gift, and my love for them is so great, that I truly wish to share them with all of you.  I think that if you even only love them a fraction of as much as I do, then you will still love them a good deal. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

22 Comments

  1. 09/06/2009

    These sound great. But I guess I have to get the first one, from what you are saying. Which means that when I really like it, I will have more! yay! I love series! Thanks for the gift!!!

  2. 09/06/2009

    Alas, I must confess that I’m one of those bookish folks who just couldn’t get into The Eyre Affair. I’m not sure why, actually. Maybe it’s that I expected to lurrrvve it. Maybe I was in the wrong mood. I don’t know. My main memory is that I thought Fforde was trying too hard to be clever, but it’s been a few years ago since I read it, so I can’t remember now why I felt that way.

    I do, however, lurrvve Woodhouse and Arrested Development, and I laughed like a crazy woman at Lemony Snicket (many silly names and plenty of puns), so I’m not utterly humor-impaired.

    Maybe I’ll take your advice and give Lost in a Good Book a go sometime–but I think I’d rather just read more Woodhouse first 😉

  3. 09/06/2009

    Ok,Ok, alright already. I am adding The Eyre Affair to my list right now, maybe I’ll hop over to Half Price Books tomorrow and pick up a copy. Jees…

  4. 09/06/2009

    I’m one of those who just couldn’t fall in love with Jasper Fforde. I agree with Theresa in that I feel he tries far too hard to be clever. Yes, we get it–you’re clever, you have a great knowledge of literature. I do, however, think Arrested Development is one of the best television shows EVER. Go figure.

  5. 09/06/2009

    @ rhapsody: Definitely start at the beginning (it’s a very good place to start!), otherwise you’ll be really lost! I hope you do love these books!
     
    @ Teresa: It’s funny you mention Wodehouse (I guess I did too, come to think of it), but Fforde just reminds me of him, with that lighthearted, barely controlled zaniness. Obviously a lot more literary references, but I consider the two very similar in my mind. I got a book of Jeeves short stories out of the library, so I’ll probably dive into those soon, because I find that in my Venn Diagram of Literary Love, there is plenty of overlap between these two authors! 😉 Glad we are at least in accord on the AD (and Wodehouse) front! I only read the first Lemony Snicket book, but I did like it. Don’t know why I never continued on with it… I’ll have to rectify that!
     
    @ Gavin: I know, talk about twisting your arm, right? I hope you enjoy it! I’ll keep an eye out for your review!
     
    @ Chavonne: Didn’t you rip through the Jasper Fforde books a while back? I really thought you had read this one, but maybe I’m hallucinating that! I guess maybe the stuff you two have perceived as “trying too hard” I merely took as being all “tongue in cheek”. I really just feel like he’s effortlessly clever (in person, he’s super funny just on the fly), and his books never come across as show-off-y, as in he’s trying to impress you with how many books he’s read. Just that’s he’s read a bunch of books and is going to use that knowledge and love to his advantage.
    BUT of course I know you are on board with the AD love… I do believe we spent a good deal of time watching and laughing while at Rice! (Along with Anchorman, Old School, and Dodgeball!)

  6. 09/06/2009

    Wikipedia informs me that The Eyre Affair was rejected 76 times before being published. I admire Fforde’s perseverance!

  7. 09/06/2009

    I thought you were talking about me about not liking the Thursday Next series! I started The Eyre Affair but couldn’t get through it. I knew it must be the time when I was reading the book. I constantly got distracted by other things which took a toll on my attention span of it.

  8. I loved The Eyre Affair, but haven’t tried any of the other books yet. I’m not sure why – I really should try to get hold of one soon. Thanks for the reminder about how good these books are.

  9. 09/07/2009

    I still haven’t gotten a copy of The Eyre Affair, Steph. Would you mind enumerating the sequence of all the titles in the series for me? I think the main reason I never pick the first book up is that I’m not so much in the mood for a long series at this point. Although I do want to try. I did get to finish Lemony Snicket’s books, so.

  10. I wasn’t blown away by The Eyre Affair but persevered and LOVED the series. I think it’s time for a reread; it’s only been two years but my boyfriend is going to read them all shortly and I want to be able to discuss them. First Among Sequels is great; you’re in for a treat!

    I’m looking forward to Fforde’s new series, Shades of Grey, in January.

  11. 09/07/2009

    @ charley: I didn’t know that about the multitude of rejection, but I really admire Fforde’s persistence too! And I’m really glad he didn’t give up!
     
    @ Matt: Oh no, I promise I wasn’t taking a jab at you! I’ve actually read lots of things over the years from various people about not being able to get into The Eyre Affair. It could very well have been that the time wasn’t right when you picked it up – I had the same problem earlier with The Master & Margarita; it’s a book I know I’ll love but I was so tired and ADD I just couldn’t give it the focus I know it requires (and deserves!). If you can follow that book, I am confident that in the right state of mind, you can follow a Jasper Fforde novel!
     
    @ Jackie: If you loved the first book, then I really can’t wait to see your reaction to the rest of the series. I too loved it, but then when I moved on to the next book, and I really felt there was a huge improvement between the first and the second books. Even on subsequent re-reads I feel the same way!
     
    @ claire: The series in order is:
    1) The Eyre Affair
    2) Lost in a Good Book
    3) The Well of Lost Plots
    4) Something Rotten
    5) First Among Sequels
    I would also say that while the series is looking to wind up being 7 or 8 books, the books themselves are really quick reads. Something Rotten is almost 400 pages and I would happily read 200 pages in a day. Also, I think you can safely read The Eyre Affair and not jump directly into the next book if you don’t feel like going on a reading jag. I really hope you love the books!
     
    @ Claire (Paperback Reader): Yay! I’m so glad to find another fan, AND to find one who backs up my sentiment that this series is really strongest after the first book. Last night I read the dustjacket flap of First Among Sequels and it sounds awesome. I know it’s going to be great! I think it might be a book Tony & I read aloud to one another (a reading exercise we’ve just recently started experimenting with). And I am also really excited for Shades of Grey – it sounds really interesting. I’ve also read his Nursery Crime series, which is ok, but is (in my mind) a far cry from the Thursday books.

  12. 09/07/2009

    So I have never read Fforde but your glowing recommendation makes me think I should give him a try. Especially if they are funny books, that is always a plus. And I happen to agree with you about Arrested Development so I’m willing to risk it.

  13. 09/07/2009

    I love this series and think it is amazing. I am so glad to hear that you love it too! I think FForde is beyond clever and I am so hoping that there he continues the series for a long while. I am such a fan that I bought all of the audio books as well, and I love to listen to them on long trips. It’s an awesome series. I have also just bought the first in his nursery crime series, have you read any of them?

  14. 09/07/2009

    @ verbivore: These are definitely funny books, quite madcap, but also quite clever. I hope that if you do get around to trying them that you enjoy them as much as I do!
     
    @ zibilee: I can only imagine how fun the audio books must be! Actually, at one of the signings I went to, he talked about how he used to purposefully create difficult names (like St Zvlklk (or however you spell it!)) to mess with the people doing the audiobooks, but then he started getting memos asking for how they were supposed to be pronounced, which put an end to that!
    I have read the two books thus far published in the Nursery Crimes series. Generally speaking I don’t find them as clever as the Thursday Next books, but they’re not bad. I didn’t really care for The Big Over Easy, but thought The Fourth Bear was much better. Maybe Fforde always needs one book before really getting a series going smoothly?

  15. 09/08/2009

    Hey, Steph,
    I’m the opposite of your friend Claire–I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair, but the further I got into the series, the less I liked it. I just kept hoping it would get better. I’m glad you liked it!

    Also, are you coming to Pgh after all? Please email me with the details if you are! Squee!

  16. 09/08/2009

    @ Chavonne: Ok, that explains why I remember seeing your status saying you were reading Something Rotten! I’m sorry you felt the series lost steam or just became something you weren’t into, but at least you enjoyed The Eyre Affair.
    And yes, I’m definitely coming to Pittsburgh, and I’m hoping I’ll have time to meet you, even if it’s just for lunch or something! I’ll email you soon once details for my trip are all sorted out!

  17. 09/09/2009

    I liked the first, I’ll have to continue the series. I think they are fun!

  18. 09/09/2009

    @ Rebecca: I remember you enjoyed The Eyre Affair not to long ago. I can’t wait for you to read the next one and let us all know what you think! They just get more fun!

  19. Kay
    09/10/2009

    You know, I have always hesitated to Fforde books. I don’t know why! Maybe I wasn’t sure if they would be good or just silly? Anyway, after reading your review, I’m thinking of giving it a chance. It does sound good the way you talk about it!

    And I have yet to watch Arrested Development!

  20. 09/10/2009

    @ Kay: Don’t get me wrong, these books are silly, BUT in the best possible way! They aren’t serious reads by any means, but I love how creative Fforde is and how immersive his books world is as well!

    And you must watch Arrested Development! Best. Show. Ever.

  21. 09/14/2009

    I absolutely love Jasper Fforde. I reviewed The Eyre Affair on my blog.

    http://oohbooks.blogspot.com/2009/07/review-eyre-affair-by-jasper-fforde.html

    The sequels are even better.

  22. 09/14/2009

    @ Cara: Always happy to hear from another ffriend of Fforde ( 😉 ), so thanks for posting! I’m popping over to your site to check out your review right now!

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