Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: One of Our Thursdays is Missing

I recently finished the final three books in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: Something Rotten, First Among Sequels and One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Fans of the series will have read these already, most likely when they originally came out. The latest installment, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, came out in 2011, and so I will focus my review on this particular book. First, a quick recap: we were first introduced to Literary Detective Thursday Next in The Eyre Affair, in which her attempt to stop a book thief and murderer takes her into Jane Eyre and the resulting action causes a change in the novel’s plot (the ending is much better now). Lost in a Good Book was the second book, followed by The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, and First Among Sequels. In each novel, Fforde expands on the idea of BookWorld, which posits that fictional characters are real entities whose jobs are to portray characters in novels as they are being read. It is a fascinating world, and Fforde does well to maintain his metaphor throughout.

In One of Our Thursdays is Missing, the narrative conceit is changed slightly. Thursday Next’s adventures have become so well known that a series of novels were written about her, giving birth to the fictional Thursday. Fforde goes to several levels of metafiction here, as the first five books in the fictional Thursday Next series have the same titles as the actual books; Fforde goes so far as to reveal the truth behind a major character's actual name, as it was changed for the fictional version.

The novel is told by the written Thursday, who must solve a BookWorld mystery of espionage and corruption, as well as find the real Thursday, who seems to be missing. Fforde expands on the conceit of BookWorld, giving metaphor, malapropism, tropes, etc, tangible properties. It works as a device and he keeps it interesting, especially during the token River Boat trip with cliche characters.

The story is exciting as always, and while it is not exactly a crime novel, it works well as detective fiction. Thursday is an excellent character, and Fforde explores the idea of the self through a fictional representation of his staple character. The book follows a predictable narrative arc, yet it is anything but predictable.

However, I felt as though there was an opportunity to dig deeper into the era of ebooks and ereading. For instance, Fforde has an opportunity to explore the definitions of "text" and "book", as well as the evolution of authors, publishers and readers. It is addressed peripherally, but not nearly enough. It is enough of a sea change in publishing and reading technology that it felt like the white elephant in the room while I was reading it. Of course, I was reading it on an ereader, so that may have influenced my opinion. Perhaps the next Thursday Next book will tackle this topic in more detail.

Overall, the six books of the Thursday Next series are excellent: fun, thought-provoking, intelligent and well-written. Highly recommended - four wise-cracking dodos out of five.

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