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Thursday Next ABCs

22 February 2011
Published in Culture
by Christina Kolyva

Bookworms with an open mind for comic fantasy and a taste for word-play will love Jasper Fforde’s novels featuring Thursday Next. With One of our Thursdays is missing, discount the sixth novel of the series, rx just around the corner, it’s a good time to go through the BookWorld ABCs before gulping down the new book. Summarising Jasper Fforde is impossible and literary scandalous because all the quick plots and puns are lost, so this is just a taster of the story so far.

It’s 1985 in an alternative England. Illegal cheese trafficking is a booming business, travelling from London to Sydney via Gravitube is just a forty-minute DeepDrop through the centre of the earth and the annual migration of genetically re-engineered mammoths causes havoc in the streets. In this England literature is paramount and there is a whole division in the Special Operations Network dedicated exclusively to literary crimes.

Thursday Next is a literary detective, investigating the mysterious theft of the Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript. While she’s on the trail of Acheron Hades, a malicious villain, her aunt and uncle are kidnapped. Mycroft Next, her uncle, invents ingenious devices of more-often-than-not equivocal usefulness. He and his wife Polly have disappeared while testing the Prose Portal, which allows real people and literary characters to travel respectively in and out of any book the portal is connected to. It’s soon revealed that Hades has stolen the portal and kidnapped Mycroft. He deviously leaves Polly trapped inside Wordsworth’s poem Daffodils as leverage for blackmailing Mycroft into operating the portal. Hades’s plan is to hold literary characters for ransom. First, a minor character from the stolen Dickens novel disappears from all editions in print and his body turns up in the real world. Then Hades steals the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps her; without Jane Eyre the favourite classic ceases to exist. Thursday goes after Hades in a chase that ends inside the novel. There, aided by Mr Rochester she manages to kill Hades during a fire that destroys Thornfield Hall, injures Mr Rochester gravely and kills his mad wife. Thursday cannot resist intervening to prevent Jane from following St.John to India (the lukewarm end Charlotte Brontë had written) and instead mediates her return to Thornfield Hall.

In this alternative England Goliath Corporation, a corrupt multinational company, pulls the strings. They erase Thursday’s husband, Landen, from existence and blackmail her to release one of their top executives who has been (justly) imprisoned inside Poe’s The Raven. At the same time Thursday discovers Jurisfiction, the BookWorld’s own police force for maintaining the integrity of fiction. They have charged her with Fiction Infraction for changing the end of Jane Eyre and she has to appear in front of the magistrate from Kafka’s The Trial. Thursday seeks the help of Mrs Nakijima, who has been running a profitable business for years bringing tourists into Jane Eyre, to teach her how to bookjump without the Prose Portal. Her first bookjump is into the Great Library, a colossal library holding all books that will ever be written. Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat, the librarian, informs her that despite her upcoming trial she has already been accepted as a Jurisfiction cadet and apprenticed to Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham is quite a character and, when she doesn’t need to keep appearances for Great Expectations, wears sneakers, is well known to the real-world traffic police for serious driving offences with her Bugatti and carries a gun. Once Thursday gains some confidence in her bookjumping skills, she goes inside The Raven; Goliath predictably double-crosses her, but Miss Havisham rescues her spectacularly. With trouble everywhere in the real world, Thursday, who is pregnant with her still-eradicated husband’s child, decides to seek refuge in the BookWorld.

The Great Library doesn’t contain only published novels; all unpublished novels are also shelved in twenty-six sub-basements known as the Well of Lost Plots. Under the character exchange program, Thursday substitutes a secondary character inCaversham Heights, an unpublished detective story. She makes her home in a flying boat docked next to Nautilus, together with two generic characters who attend St. Tabularasa’s school until they develop personalities and form physical characteristics. Thursday’s diverse training for Jurisfiction continues. Killing Verbisoids (parasites that eat grammar) with irregular verbs, feeding the Minotaur (yoghurt rather than people!), attending Jurisfiction meetings at Norland Park in Sense and Sensibility, helping Miss Havisham chair a Wuthering Heights rage counselling session and classes in bookjumping using the ISBN positioning system are an integral part of her curriculum. The real world is still haunting her and things take a turn for the worse when senior Jurisfiction members are found dead. They had all been testing UltraWordTM, the upgraded Book Operating System which transforms words into pictures inside the reader’s head. Text Grand Central, the Intelligence of the BookWorld, is pushing the deadline for the upgrade of BOOK v8.3 into UltraWordTM and promises that reading will become an unprecedented experience with the new system that operates on a thirty-two-plot architecture rather than the old eight-plot per book. Some Jurisfiction members are sceptical about the upgrade, since an older upgrade erased the library of Alexandria. Thursday discovers several downsides of UltraWordTM which TGC was trying to cover up, saves the day and becomes the new Bellman (head of Jurisfiction).

A couple of years pass and Thursday decides it’s time to return to the “Outland” with her toddler Friday. The Council of Genres, the BookWorld’s government, doesn’t accept her resignation and suggests that while in the Outland she tries to capture a runaway fictional character, Yorrick Kaine. Hamlet joins Thursday, wanting to find out if the Outlanders really think he’s a major ditherer, as rumour has it in the BookWorld. In the real world there’s a lot of excitement about St Zvlkx’s resurrection. His worshippers believe he’s a 13th century saint whose prophesies are always very accurate, but in reality he’s a rogue time-traveller and his Revelations are nothing more than bets he placed centuries ago with astronomical odds. In the meantime, Goliath Corporation are seemingly trying to change their profile and have established an Apologarium fully stuffed with professional apologists. They bring back Landen, although he flickers on and off for a while, until his uneradication holds. Goliath are also major supporters of the rising politician Yorrick Kaine, whose preposterous plans to become dictator and whose campaign against Denmark and anything Danish (Andersen, Blixen, pastries, Hamlet) find surprisingly little resistance. He uses the Ovinator, stolen from Mycroft, to make everyone around him behave submissively like sheep. After Thursday manages a spectacular and impossible win for Swindon’s croquet team in the World Cup, the earnings from St Zvlkx’s betting book are enough to gain control of Goliath. Without their financial support and with the Ovinator destroyed, Kaine soon loses power.

Fourteen years later Thursday seems to have settled into a low-key family life, with a husband and teenage kids, a mortgage and a carpet-fitting business. Her adventures have been published into a series of novels, warranting her a mediocre celebrity-status and her own stalker. Motivating grumbling Friday to get out of bed and pursue a career in the Chronoguard (the SpecOps department dealing with temporal stability) and knitting dodo-cosies for her twenty-nine-year old dodo, Pickwick, is all she has to worry about. Or not? The carpet fitting business is just a cover and her SpecOps work continues as hard as ever together with Jurisfiction. Ever since her adventures were published, Thursday has two fictional alter egos: Thursday1-4 (featured in the first four novels) and Thursday5 (featured only in the fifth novel). Thursday1-4 is cruel, arrogant and violent, with a taste for guns and black leather. Thursday5 is caring, compassionate, girly, pacifist, vegetarian and a naturist who loves yoga. In Jurisfiction Thursday finds herself in the awkward position of having both Thursday1-4 and Thursday5 apprenticed to her at the same time. The first mission of the three of them together is Piano Squad; there are only fifteen pianos in the BookWorld and they need to be juggled between books. Things start to unravel from then on. Thursday fires Thursday1-4, who seeks revenge by marooning Thursday in the Outland and taking her place in the Council of Genres. There Thursday1-4 approves interactive books and Pride and Prejudice is going to be the first classic to be turned into a reality show with the Bennets as ‘housemates’. Thursday manages to take some control of the situation, but not before Thursday1-4 and the fifth novel of the series are permanently erased.

The rest… in the bookstores from February 22nd. Information for book signings can be found here.

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