Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
“Smart” fiction is a term that may put some readers off; not everyone wants to think while reading a novel for pleasure. But don’t let the label fool you, because Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels are clever enough for any level of concentration. Something Rotten wraps up some burning questions while providing some very “smart” storytelling indeed.
Thursday, leader of the Jurisfiction, the Bookworld literary police, has decided to re-enter the real world with her 2-year-old son Friday, in search of a way to bring her husband Landen back from eradication. When he was killed at the age of 2 by the time-traveling Chronoguard, everyone forgot that he’d ever existed … except Thursday. She returns to find that a fictional character named Yorrick Kaine is on the verge of being declared Dictator, and then plunging the world into global war.
It’s up to Thursday to head off this threat. This is no mean feat, as she’s currently juggling her dilemma with Landen, attempting to get her job back, baby-sitting a broody Hamlet (visiting from Bookworld), and trying to find childcare more socially acceptable than a talking gorilla.
Although this book can be enjoyed without having read the myriad classics on which it’s based, the reader’s experience will be greater for having done so. For example, Hamlet’s presence in the story allows for some dialogue puns–alert readers will anticipate the variant on the line “Alas, poor Yorrick,” directed at Kaine–and some character development that draws on critical interpretations of the play. But Fforde has done an excellent job of conveying the tale, regardless.
A good part of the novel’s charm comes from how this alternate England is so much like our own, and yet so very different. Dirigibles roam the skies, dodos are common housepets, and fiction is so revered that it has its own police force. This is Fforde’s greatest strength: He portrays literature as vibrant and alive, worthy of protection, and promotes the idea that books are valuable. In a time when many adults don’t read for pleasure, it’s a timely lesson.
Fforde wraps up the first “Thursday Next” storyline with both action and poignancy. Something Rotten is a clever, well-told tale.