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The Woman Who Died a Lot
Jasper Fforde
Hodder & Stoughton, 385 pages

The Woman Who Died a Lot
Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde was born in Wales. He spent several years as a focus puller on big-budget Hollywood productions. In the early 90s, he began to spend much of his free time writing short stories and then novels. His first published novel was The Eyre Affair.

Jasper Fforde Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Last Dragonslayer
SF Site Review: First Among Sequels
SF Site Review: Something Rotten
SF Site Review: The Well of Lost Plots
SF Site Review: The Eyre Affair
SF Site Review: Lost In A Good Book
SF Site Review: Lost In A Good Book

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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The woman doing the serial dying here is none other than British Special Ops agent Thursday Next, heroine of six previous novels as well as one imaginary novel who herself may or may not be imaginary. Of course, this is fiction, so of course she's made up, but this is the kind of fiction that calls into question the nature of reality by imagining a reality that is not very real, all the while dropping hints that consensual reality may not be so real as the consensus believes, and that suspending disbelief to sustain narrative is what we do in ordinary life anyway. All of which creates opportunities to make puns and jokes that don't aim much higher than sophomoric, but are funny nonetheless (e.g., one of the bad guys is named "Jack Schitt") to illustrate the basic cosmic absurdity of it all.

Think of it as the bastard child of Philip K. Dick and Douglas Adams.

The overarching premise of the series is that Thursday exists in an alternative England in which, among other details, the megalithic Goliath, the embodiment of corporate greed and exploitation, seeks total world domination beyond the huge chunk it already controls. So far, maybe we're not too far off from the truth. Where we really veer off the edge is the idea that literature is equivalent in popularity to sports or television, and that Thursday's job is to ensure the integrity of great works by entering the "Bookworld" and interacting with characters to ensure plots unfold (or unravel) as planned. The philosophical question is whether in a work created by an omniscient narrator can characters still function autonomously within the context of a preordained fate and/or knowingly act to fulfill that fate. But epistemology is merely sideshow to "wink-wink" banter with literary allusions aimed at English majors (because, in the real world, only English majors care about such things as normal people do about sports and television).

The idea is perhaps getting a little tired by now, though Jasper Fforde seems to recognize this by portraying Thursday as growing into late middle age, attempting to cope with diminished physical capabilities while fending off a young upstart which adds a nice, if you'll pardon the expression, wrinkle or two. The premise in the latest edition is yet another riff on the notion of multiple and contradictory realities in which Thursday instead of entering the plot lines of novels and alternate realities unwillingly enters a series of limited-use android duplicates (called "day players") that despite their expiration dates have the advantage of permitting her to survive the violent demise of her temporary body to return to her actual, if a bit shopworn, flesh (hence, the title). Both reader and fellow characters are left to figure out if they are encountering the "real" Thursday or some other edition.

The plot, such as it is, involves competing measures to avoid the potential smiting of Thursday's hometown of Swindon, one in a series of destructive acts by an Old Testament Deity making a comeback in the modern age to ordain spectacular acts of punishing the sinful as part of the job description. Then there's the entire screwing up of people's futures, with the receipt of letters notifying them that there's been a change in the timeline and new destinies have been assigned, as well as research into the Dark Reading Matter, the place in Bookworld where forgotten imaginary friends from childhood and minor literary characters reside. And let's not forget the heartwarming fate of Thursday's non-existent daughter, Jenny.

At times I felt the storyline was getting as creaky as Thursday's middle-aged maladies; this is not the book you want to hand to friends to turn them on to Fforde. On the other hand, those who are already friends will still have some fun visiting familiar old territory whilst laughing in agreement with the essential ludicrousness of existence redeemed somewhat by a few touching moments.

And, yes, there's life in the old gal, still, as much of what is revealed here is a setup for the next book in the series, Dark Reading Matter, due out next year.

Copyright © 2012 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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