To me, grass is simply a transitional phase for turning sunlight into milk.
I discovered Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series by judging a book by its cover. Sitting on the shelf of a rotating metal book tower in the Bev Facey High School library, Something Rotten featured a riotously coloured speedster tearing down the hallway of a handsome library, driven by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, holding Yorick’s skull. I was moderately obsessed with Hamlet in my final year of high school—I even dressed up like the Kenneth Branagh version for Hallowe’en that year, fake skull-in-hand and all. I’d always loved libraries, and I’d loved shiny motorcars since I was a young boy. The combination of all three proved too powerful to resist, and soon I found myself pulled in to the Universe of Thursday Next: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and now The Woman Who Died A Lot.
This latest instalment of the series finds Real Thursday recovering in the Outland (the Real World outside of fiction, into which she can jump except not now because she’s injured) from the assassination attempt she survived during book six, One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Over the course of a week, Thursday must contend with: 1) the Global Standard Deity, who has Revealed Himself to His creation and threatened to smite Swindon, unless Thursday’s daughter Tuesday can complete the anti-smite shield; 2) the sinister Goliath corporation, which keeps sending Synthetic Thursdays (who die a lot), to steal her consciousness; 3) Aornis Hades, the mnemonomorph who planted the false mindworm daughter Jenny in Thursday’s mind; and 4) her son Friday’s decision to render time travel impossible in First Among Sequels, and the fallout from the dismantling of the ChronoGuard.
If you’re a little confused, I recommend reading the series from the beginning. The complex, hilarious mythology that Fforde builds up throughout his series—in his BookWorld and in his bizarre, alternate-universe Britain—only gets more complex and wrapped up in itself as the series goes along.
In fact, the Thursday Next books are split into two series, with the first four books forming a self-contained arc and fifth book (which I think is the best of the series, my ranking going: 5, 4, 6, 3, 2, 1, 7) beginning a new chapter of Thursday’s life, fourteen years after the events of Something Rotten.
Yes, for me The Woman Who Died A Lot was the weakest of the collection, for several obvious reasons. Primarily, Thursday’s injuries prevent her from bookjumping into the weird and wonderful world of fiction which is the backbone of the series. As fun as it is to explore Fforde’s bizarro-Britain, without the insane hurly-burly of famous literary characters attempting to kill one another and trying to take over their books to their own advantage, the book falls a little flat. This is especially true after book six, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, injected such a stupendous breath of life into the series by having the first-person narration switch to Written Thursday (for the BookWorld contains books 1-5 of the series, naturally). Written Thursday’s perspective allowed Fforde to poke fun at what a hugely overblown superhero Thursday herself has become in his mythos, and the vulnerability and naiveté and uncertainty that Written Thursday faces as she tries to live up to her namesake makes her a super sympathetic character, one that I really hope we get to see again.
But, like any Netflix binger knows, once you’re hooked on a story you can’t stop for any reason as trifling as a decline in quality. The Woman Who Died A Lot is still full of laughs and puns and ridiculous situations, showing that even if a writer’s words and scenes and characters aren’t super well-crafted or hugely deep, he can make up for it with tremendous reserves of active and energetic imagination. Jasper Fforde’s mind overflows with creativity, and I will always enjoy scarfing down his new books. Thursday Next #8, Dark Reading Matter, promises to venture not only back to the BookWorld, but to the source and final destination of all imagination itself, the realm of all that has been thought and forgotten. So no matter if The Woman Who Died A Lot was a rather weak outing, I will certainly be there for the next Next adventure.