[Review] The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel, By Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next is easily one of my favourite modern fictional characters, and her series holds a similar position in my esteem. I look forward to their arrival with the same level of anticipation usually reserved for children awaiting new siblings: a mixture of excitement and jealousy. And an unrequited trepidation, knowing that the laws of thermodynamics can only hold out for so long until there is a bad one. Books I mean, I've gone off the child metaphor. Though, I suppose it holds up. Have enough of them, one is certain to be rotten. Children I mean. And fruit, I suppose...

I've wandered off topic. Which is also not uncommon in the world of Thursday Next, especially of late, and especially in The Woman Who Died A Lot, or TWWDAL. As the world Fforde has created continues to get denser and more detailed, the more tangents Thursday seems to find herself sliding down, and the more the reader struggles to keep up.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that cannot by any measure be considered righteous.

It took me a great long while to get into this one. Many chapters in fact, playing mental catch up as Fforde gave very little time to filling in the gaps of where we are now in relation to where we were previously. It does, at first, assume an intimacy with the sheer amount of background that exists via the previous six novels in the series, all of which Fforde is familiar with, but only the most obsessive reader would recall at a moment's notice. I have read, and reread the series, and I found myself floundering as Next mentions and meets with and recalls those she's crossed paths with over the pages.

And I respect Fforde for it in a way. He doesn't come at it from the direction most would. It isn't so much a novel as it is a transcription, that the reader just happens to have stumbled into Thursday's life at this point and the time between this novel and last has passed as normal for her. Thursday continues between the covers of concurrent books as we do, though not as quickly. And doesn't feel the need to immediately reveal all her comings and goings during that time.

Thursday has always been a different sort of hero, more realistically built and rarely heroic (and when so, only begrudgingly). And Fforde continues to build a real person rather then a superhero, as age and life have caught up to her at last. Her coming to terms with her new reality, made all the more difficult by the Goliath's interventions, was a nice touch, and a gentle reminder to her and us that not everything lasts forever, something we must remember going into book eight of the Next Octology (as it was at one point known).

Sadly, BookWorld is no where to be seen in this volume, which I'm thankful for on one hand. We need not have had the extra plot that would have come with her venturing into the newly reconstructed Disc-world of Fiction. I was however saddened by the loss, Next's dealings with JurisFiction being my favourite part of the series. By by restricting Thursday to the real world, it allows her time to clear up several dangling plot threads left over from previous books, and by the end Fforde has done a fair job putting Thursday's house in order (literally, and finally). Which suggests an end is coming, and from glancing at the chapter titles in the table of contents, you would be forgiven to think that the end had already come. I did.

The bulk of the book is concerned with a wrathful god intending on smiting Swindon, and various members of the Next family attempting to prevent it, while Thursday herself takes a position as Chief Librarian all the while Spec-Ops reforms around her. This alternate world is kept organic and consistent with it's own internal logic, and Fforde obviously has quite a lot of love for this paracosm he has created. My favourite subplot was sadly the one Fforde devoted the least attention to, until the very end, of a backwards simultaneous paradox. His creative use of time travel in the past, and unique mastery over all things tense has never ceased to delight me, and it is a private regret that it wasn't given more time.

In many ways, this book reminded me more of the Eyre Affair then any other in the series, in tone, in restriction, and in temperament. It is fair to say the quality of each book and its value to the series as a whole fluctuates greatly, and to aspire to the best of them is not a bad thing. To actually succeed in recapturing something of the magic of that first outing would be miraculous, no matter who the author was. And while TWWDAL doesn't match that esteemed level, it is certainly an improvement over others. I remain frustrated however that Fforde has apparently just abandoned the cliffhanger of First Among Sequels, of a serial killer loose in Fiction. That was the story I was anticipating in the last book, and expected again here, and have both time been disappointed. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, and I do hope he finds time for it in what may well be the last of Thursday's adventures.

In the end though, I appreciated the dedication.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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