Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book Review: "The Woman Who Died a Lot" by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is one of those authors whose creativity never ceases to amaze me. In his seven books featuring literary detective Thursday Next, and two books in his Nursery Crimes series, the scenarios and characters he creates are at times farcical, at times satirical, and often his references to certain things or interpretations leave me chuckling or shaking my head in wonder.

In The Woman Who Died a Lot, Thursday has returned home to Swindon, forced into semi-retirement after an assassination attempt. But although everyone wants her to recuperate from her injuries, the world slows down for no one. Both of her children's lives are in chaos—her genius daughter, Tuesday, is at work on a major Anti-Smite Shield, to protect Swindon from a smiting that God promised to hit the city with, and her son, Friday, is in the doldrums after his job as a time-traveling enforcer in the Chronoguard is eliminated, and he finds out his destiny is now not as promising as he had hoped. And of course, there's Thursday's third child, Jenny, who doesn't actually exist but everyone in the family has memories of her.

Hoping to get her old job back running the Literary Detectives, she instead becomes the new chief of The Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library (the library's survival depends on a somewhat aggressive corporate sponsor), where she has to deal with budget cuts, protestors who want certain books modified to fit their special interests, and an overzealous staff member who wants Thursday to sanction dawn raids to retrieve overdue library books.

Then she realizes that the nefarious Goliath Company starts substituting synthetic Thursdays for the real one in order to tap into her vast knowledge and take over the world, and these synthetic doubles are stronger, faster, sexier, and healthier than she is. Thursday must battle her old nemeses, Jack Schitt and Aornis Hades, on various fronts, in order to save Swindon, the book world, and those she loves.

I've been a big fan of Fforde's books, particularly the Thursday Next series. The characters and their foibles have become so familiar to me that whenever I read another book I feel like I'm visiting with old friends. Fforde has a tremendous ability to tell a story, and even as he is creating outrageous characters and situations, he imbues them with personality and warmth.

For some reason, however, this book just didn't resonate with me as its predecessors have. The humor seemed too obvious and often unfunny, as if random sarcastic jokes were being sprinkled throughout the narrative without any thought of how they would blend. And while Aornis Hades, who can manipulate memories, is a fascinating character, her whole plot thread grew very tiresome in this book and dragged on for far too long.

If you like unusual and creative stories that combine literary-loving characters with a farcical and futuristic plot, I'd recommend you check out this series, but your best bet is to start with an earlier novel in the series, as I don't think this one is as worthy of Thursday.

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