I have a confession: I read this half hoping to hate this, so I could make some space on the physical library shelves. Alas, there is no way I could consign it to “the narrative doldrums of the suburbs.” The reading references are too clever, the mystery too intriguing and the character-building too well-done. Don’t tell Friday, but I think I might have to toss ‘Something Rotten‘ instead.
I haven’t read Thursday Next in about ten years, so I wasn’t sure how confused I’d be. I remember a lingering sense of enjoying some of the series, but with other parts leaving a strange, vaguely unpleasant aftertaste. Happily, the mechanisms of BookWorld came back to me quickly, and Thursday (the written one) was kind enough to give background, in the guise of orienting a new stand-in Thursday, Carmine O’Kipper (you may now groan).
The meta-literary elements included in the story are surprisingly insightful, and frequently amusing as well. There’s a moment early on when Thursday explains book detail to Carmine:
“Every novel as only as much description as is necessary. In years past, each book was carefully crafted to an infinitely fine degree, but that was in the days of limited reader sophistication. Today… Most books are finished by the readers themselves.” “The Feedback Loop?” “Precisely. As soon as the readers get going, the feedback loop will start back washing some of their interpretations into the book itself… readers often add detail by their own interpretations.”
It’s that kind of insight that adds fun layer to the stories. In this book, BookWorld is rebuilt early on, restructuring the Book Universe along the lines of the Geographic model. It means Thursday will need to travel by physical means to get from one genre to the next instead of the more ambiguous ‘reading in’ technique. What this means for the reader is a fun little tour through BookWorld as Thursday (the written one) investigates a book accident. After crossing through Thriller, she heads into Conspiracy, where she runs into Sprocket, a robot about to be stoned by residents as a spy.
The written Thursday is very aware of her inadequacies compared to the legendary Thursday Next, but feels she brings emotional depth to Thursday’s story. Others might characterize her as “the dopey one who likes to hug a lot.” As she investigates the crashed book, she discovers that the real Thursday hasn’t been seen in a suspicious number of days. The real Thursday is needed to broker peace talks between Racy Novel and Feminism/Dogma genres who are about to be in a cross-genre war.
The mystery here is fairly–narratively, at least–straightforward. The humor often has me smiling, particularly Agent Square from Flatland as he coaches Thursday (the written one), Sprockett’s expressive eyebrow, a devastating minefield, the ongoing joke of keeping track who is speaking when there aren’t any conversational markers, and the threat of a ‘Bobby Ewing’ ending. Despite all that, parts are definitely brainy and expositionary, and so it is surprisingly easy to fall asleep to for a four-star book. That said, it’s definitely worth keeping.