August 20, 2010 by Reader's Connection
If that previous post by Central Library´s Sherry Utterback has you thinking about reading some classics, but you don’t know where to start, perhaps Jasper Fforde can be of help. He’s the author of the Thursday Next series. They´re great fun, but in order to really enjoy the experience you sometimes have to first read (or reread) a classic novel.
An alternative 1985: Thursday Next works as a Special Operative in literary detection. In The Eyre Affair , the first title in the series, her Uncle Mycroft has invented a gadget call the Prose Portal, which allows Thursday to enter works of fiction in pursuit of bad guys . . . okay, it has been five years since I read The Eyre Affair, and I don’t have many of the details together. But I knew that I had to pause and read Jane Eyre before Thursday´s adventures would make any sense.
I had tried to read Charlotte Brontë’s novel in my youth, but (probably coincidentally) entered a period of illness and cosmic dread, and never finished the book. In March of 2005, in preparation for Fforde’s treatment of the story, I was at it again. Walking north on Illinois Street with a copy of Jane Eyre in hand, I fell while crossing Market Street and broke my shoulder and upper arm.
But don’t let me bog you down with the perils I’ve endured to read this novel. I enjoyed it, and enjoyed Thursday Next’s ability to enter it, meet the characters and change the ending.
The paperback cover for Lost in a Good Book, the second in Fforde´s series,warns that Thursday is apprenticed to a celebrated character from Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations: the jilted Miss Havisham, all of whose clocks are stopped at twenty to nine, and who has raised the lovely Estella in such a manner . . . hey, you have to read the book, or in my case reread the book, because I´d read Great Expectations decades ago and it hadn´t made the impression that Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend would make.
I was more moved, the second time around, by our narrator Pip’s ill-starred navigation through the class system. He’s working class, he’s upper class, he doesn’t know what he is. Even if the reread turns out to be unnecessary–I’m on page 88 of Lost in a Good Book, and Miss Havisham hasn’t been mentioned, yet–it was still time wonderfully spent.
Uncle Mycroft has appeared, even if Miss Havisham hasn’t, and he’s still inventing like a maniac. And I mean that. Like a maniac. Here he is, applying the new Nextian geometry to the making of scones:
“Scone dough,” he explained. “I’ve left out the raisins for purposes of clarity. Using conventional geometry, a round scone cutter always leaves waste behind, agreed?”
“Not with Nextian geometry! You see this pastry cutter? Circular, wouldn’t you say?”
“Perfectly circular, yes.”
“Well,” carried on Mycroft in an excited voice, “it isn’t. It appears circular but actually it’s a square. A Nextian square. Watch.”
And so saying he deftly cut the dough into twelve perfectly circular shapes with no waste. I frowned and stared at the small pile of disks, not quite believing what I had just seen.
“Clever, isn’t it?” he chuckled. “Admittedly it only works with Nextian dough, which doesn’t rise so well and tastes like denture paste, but we’re working on that.”
Speculations about the feelings of long-dead authors are a preposterous exercise, but I think Charles Dickens would have enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s sense of humor. If you’re going to try the series, I would start at the beginning, with The Eyre Affair. Pack an extra bag, though, in case you have to journey back and reacquaint yourself with Jane.