“My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don’t mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultraslow trickle.”
Appropriate use of the semicolon in the first couple of lines is always a good indication that you’re reading a decent novel, but in this case, Jasper Fforde is a literary genius. I mean it. I’ve read almost everything he’s written for adults (I still need to catch up on the last couple of Thursday Next books) and I’m excited about his new series for YA. Shout out to Texas middle school teachers – The Last Dragonslayer is on the Lone Star list this year! Pick it up! And yes, the book is propped on my dog. He’s so helpful when he’s asleep. Anyhow, the book casually reclining on Skeeter is the same one that introduced me to Jasper Fforde’s brilliance and fostered my (I’m sure) life-long adoration of his work is a little novel called The Eyre Affair. It’s this book that I chose to reread over the summer as one of my classic favorites. Basic plot outline: Thursday Next is a Crimean War vet (and yes, in this version of Great Britain, there’s still war in Crimea) and member of Spec Ops – Literatec division. The coolest thing about this imaginary 1985 is that everyone loves literature SO MUCH that there is a whole sector of Special Ops dedicated to crimes related to the classics. Including forgeries of Cardenio and rather intense spats over who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Long story short, there’s more than one “bad guy” in this book, but Thursday is keyed into pursuing Acherson Hades, who has stolen her Uncle Mycroft’s revolutionary invention that allows people to actually enter book worlds in order to wreak havoc on the literary world. Just a fair warning to all of you: parts of the book are fast & action-packed and others are slow. Mainly because it’s so very detailed and wrapped up in the intense plot. But I enjoy books like that once in a while, especially when they are as expertly crafted as Fforde’s work. But amidst all of that intense plot and attention to detail, Fforde also drops some legit knowledge in a way that you’ll miss if you’re not paying attention. Here’s a small sampling:
“Ordinary adults don’t like children to speak of things that are denied them by their own gray minds.” “The cleanest souls are the easiest to soil.” “Without a yardstick sometimes the high points can be taken for granted.” “The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.”
What I love about reading this book is that I always catch something new. Partly because lots of what “changed” in the modern-ish-day UK of the novel isn’t commonly taught in US schools, so I don’t catch all the historical references and culture jokes, but also partly just because he pays so much attention to detail. I mean – my understanding of the novel has grown so much from when I first read it as a sophomore in high school. It’s a book that grows with me, as the best ones do. Plus, I adore Thursday as the main character. She’s so witty and awesome. I have a fictional character girl-crush on her. And she gives me some pretty good ideas for getting rid of annoying men that pass through my life. And let’s not forget my favorite book nerd riddle to torment my students with, because there are two (actually more, but I limit myself) answers to it and they can NEVER understand the second.