nce in a month of Sundays you come across a series of books that‘s truly unlike anything
you‘ve read before. A brief synopsis of Jasper
Fforde's latest novel — the fourth instalment in the
adventures of detective 'l‘hursday Next who treads her
beat atnong the iconic literary figures of the ‘Book World‘ — cannot possibly do justice to this eclectic. complex. whimsical fantasy.
But I‘ll try. Concentrate. now. .S'ontetlting Rotten finds the indefatigable Thursday Next returning to Swindon circa the late l98lls. accompanied by Hamlet. Prince of Denmark and her gobbledegook- speaking toddler Friday. on a mission to force the Goliath Corporation to tin-eradicate (bring back to life) her husband Landon Parke-Lame. As well as battling this sinister multi-national. there‘s also the thorny issue of how to prevent slippery (‘hancellor and dictator-in-waiting Yorrick Kaine seizing power from president-ior-life George Formby to confront.
While this summary may provide as tnuch clarity as a blacked-out window.
Fforde‘s energetic writing style TO WRITE A MURDER MYSTERY ABOUT HUMPTY DUMPTY'
and seemingly unpluggablc stream of ideas is attracting readers by the shedload. So. where on earth did the inspiration for this series come from'.’ ‘l‘d always loved playing with literary conventions. and I‘d been planning to write a murder mystery about llumpty Dumpty.‘ says l’forde. ‘I wanted to make llumpty a fully fleshed person: there would be lots of jeopardy and clues and suspects. Then I moved the idea on to include classical literary figures. and the image of the Book World started to develop. Of course. because this interaction between reality and fiction can‘t happen in our world. the stories have to have a logic that is completely their own.‘
As well as providing l‘forde with the freedom to traverse genres. his novels are also a fantastic vehicle for satire. Something Rotten features a spin-fuelled television programme called lz'vatle tlte Question Time. Wales is an independent socialist republic. while the newspapers tremble with fear at the
90 THE LIST 8—22 Jlll 2004
F to rd f lest ‘
After nine years and 76 rejection letters, JASPER FFORDE finally scored a huge success with his literary detective Thursday Next. Allan Radcliffe finds a writer on the verge of great things.
prospect of lingland being swamped with Danish immigrants. ‘The great thing with the series is that I can really turn up the satire knob. Right up to ll.
even. The cheese duty in The Well of Lost Plots. for instance. was inspired by the fuel crisis of a couple of
years ago. So. yeah. I think it‘s important to be influenced by current affairs and to have a healthy disrespect for holiticians.’
While his name is yet to achieve the status of a household word. liforde is fast becoming one of those authors. like Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. whose popularity is spread by a huge and knowledgeable fanbase. The increasing obsession with every nook and cranny of the Book World series is best illustrated by the vast chat forum on his website (wwwjasperfforde.com). And. as a former focus-puller who worked on such blockbusters as (ioltleneve. and loves cross-fertilisation between films and books. l"forde provides his internet fans with special editions and outtakes from his books.
You feel that the energetic liforde really deserves his burgeoning success. particularly as he was the recipient of some 76 rejection letters before the first Thursday Next novel Tllt’ l;’_vt'e Affair was published. Love of the job kept him grafting away. ‘Actually. the 76 rejections were over nearly nine years and six books. so i wasn’t trying that hard.‘ he laughs. ‘What that did was to make me very conscious that I had to get better and bone the skill in the hope that eventually my luck would change. It also freed me up to write whatever I wanted because I became convinced I wasn't going to be published. And that‘s when I wrote my first published book.’ Aspiring writers take note. It does happen.
Something Rotten is published on Mon Jul 26 by Hodder & Stoughton. Jasper Fforde will be appearing at Ottakars, Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow on Tue 3 Aug and Waterstone’s, Edinburgh on Wed 4 Aug.
Debutants under the microscope. This issue Eleni Gage.
Who she? Born on Tuesday 8 October 1974 (much to the dismay of her aunts. who considered it unlucky to share the day with Constantinople). Gage has trekked the not-unusual career path from journalist to author. Her less obvious journey from Manhattan girl-about-town to unprepared resident of Greek mountain village Lia is the subject of her first novel. A graduate of Harvard. where she studied Modern Greek folklore, the daughter of best-selling author Nicholas Gage has previously written for Elle and Insty/e and now divides her time as a freelance writer between her very different homes in New York and Epiros.
Her debut Part personal memoir. DIY manual. historical novel. family saga and tourist guide. Non‘h of Ithaka tells of Gage's attempt to put her cultural confusion to rest by exchanging the skyscrapers of New York for the mountaintops of her ancestral village. There, she becomes a priest taxi service. learns how to make good pita (savoury pies) and turns to the saints to help her find a husband and please her nosy Greek aunts.
Any good? While the ins and outs of the building trade in Greece are never going to make a particularly adrenaline-fuelled read, Gage weaves interesting titbits about Greek culture. history and the larger than life personalities she deals with into the book. Written in an inoffensive diary style with the occasional witty comment about the differences between the cultures. the proverbs heading each chapter could also be a useful source of information for holidays. After all. where else can you learn to say ‘Since you're standing on the dance floor you're going to have to dance' in Greek?
First line test 'l'm trying to crucify three oranges.’ (Katy McAulay)
I North of lthaka is out now published by Bantam Press.
Out of Italia