THE WOMAN WHO DIED A LOT
by Jasper Fforde
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Literary heroine Thursday Next and her supporting characters return in The Woman Who Died a Lot, a novel in which Jasper Fforde focuses more on Thursday Next's personal life than he normally does. Not only does Next's husband, Landon Parke-Laine appear in the novel, but so do their children, Friday, Tuesday, and Jenny, the latter of whom does not actually exist. Into this mix, Fforde tosses the sort of bureaucratic wrangling which features in many of his novels and the evil mechanizations of Goliath and the Hades family.
Fforde's characters are the focus of the novel and Fforde expands on the base of characters he has previously provided. Although Thursday's family has been mentioned in previous novels in the series, the only member of her immediate family to really be spotlighted is Landon Parke-Laine, her occasionally non-existent husband. Fforde now reveals Friday as a major member of the ChronoGuard, or at least he would be except budget cuts have caused the group to never have existed. Tuesday, a high school student, is trying to blend in with her peers even as she works overtime to create a defense against a disaster of biblical proportions, for God has announced that Swindon will suffer a smiting during the week the book covers. Convoluting the family relationship is Landon and Thursday's daughter Jenny, who doesn't actually exist, but is a mindworm implanted into Thursday by her enemy, Aornis Hades, who has gone missing after escaping from prison.
As with many of the Thursday Next novels, Fforde's plot is quite convoluted and does not necessarily stand up to close scrutiny, but the plot is not the most important thing. For instance, the storyline revolving around Aornis and Jenny is obvious to the reader. It is clear that Thursday will eventually solve the puzzle, but the suspense isn't enough to make that portion of the novel's plot interesting. In The Woman Who Died a Lot, Fforde seems to have decided that throwing idea after idea at the reader is the way to make the book interesting, so the reader is introduced to Day Players, Dark Reading Matter, and the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library Service. Some of these ideas work, some don't, but they never really come together to form a coherent whole. Instead, they serve as extended jokes to hang his character on. And Fforde does punctuate the novel with several clever one-liners as well.
Which is not to say that The Woman Who Died a Lot is not a worthwhile addition to the Thursday Next series and Fforde's overall ouevre. Thursday Next offers the resourcefulness and cleverness which has been the hallmark of the series as Fforde presents a variety of mysteries for Thursday and the reader to solve, situations rife with danger fro not only Thursday, but those she loves, and a clever, twisted worldview, which is at the heart of the entire series.
In the previous novel, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Fforde successfully revitalized a series which had been showing signs of outliving its cleverness. If The Woman Who Died a Lot doesn't quite live up to One of Our Thursdays is Missing's level, it still offers an excellent admission to the world and characters of Jasper Fforde's Swindon.
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