All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Thursday Next World

I have been rereading all of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series of books. In this alternate world of 1985, England and Russia are still fighting the Crimean War, Wales is a separate, socialist nation; Goliath corporation runs everything behind the scenes; literature is the major pastime of everyone in Britain; croquet is the national sport; and cloning extinct species (the Dodo, the woolly mammoth) is done by mail-order kit. Thursday Next’s family consists of her father, Col. Next, a time traveler who has been eradicated; Wednesday Next, her mother; Anton Next, the brother who died in the Crimea; and Joffy Next, the brother who is head of the Global Standard Deity (GSD) Church which he founded in 1983. It is science fiction, fantasy, mystery, satire, romance, suspense, and dystopian alternate history. And it is wonderful.

There are seven novels so far:
  • The Eyre Affair (2001) 
  •  Lost in a Good Book (2002) 
  •  The Well of Lost Plots (2003) 
  •  Something Rotten (2004) 
  •  First Among Sequels (2008) 
  •  One of our Thursdays is Missing (2011) 
  •  The Woman Who Died a Lot (2012)
1. The Eyre Affair

I like the character of Thursday Next, even if she comes out on top in every adventure like the best clichéd movie heroines. (If she were in an American Western, she would wear a white hat and it would never get dirty no matter what mud she was dragged through in vanquishing the villains.) I like the clichés in the characters around her: her time-traveling father, her dumb ex-boyfriend that she wants to win back, her adoring co-worker, her clueless boss whose face is saved by his employees, and mostly, the villain who must be dispatched with a silver bullet.

I find the villain a little deeper than he first appears, as his motivation is not material in any sense, but pure Ideal—like a Platonic ideal of evil—which makes me ask myself what my own motivations are and whether they are rooted in the material or in the ideal of pure good, and what the implications are of using Platonic ideals in our modern world.

I like the dystopia that is England, with a culture dominated by pre-twentieth-century literature rather than by sports or modern music or movie stars, and England may be politically similar to an Orwellian vision, but it is ultimately under the control of a behemoth corporation appropriately named Goliath that has its own completely amoral agenda.

I love that novel characters have a separate existence outside of their parts in the narrative structure (I especially love the Japanese tourists in Milcote and at Thornfield). And being a dyed-in-the-wool Wordsworthian, of course I loved that Polly was stuck in the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” and assures her husband she is “just talking” with the poet all that time in the daffodils!

Somebody’s review took exception to the vampire adventure as an example of poor editing. I thought it was really the only way to introduce that silver bullet without it taking on any significance at the time. Besides, the adventure was funny set against silly vampire novels that weren’t even thought of when this one came out.

Metatextuality has inherent self-conscious qualities, but I liked having it here with the “wink and nod” effect. What was all that schooling for if we cannot play like this?

2. Lost in a Good Book

I liked this book very much! I like wordplays—puns and everything related—as well as English lit, so this book is very much to my taste. I like things to get very silly, too, which this does in a satisfying way. It has adventure, romance, suspense, mystery, detection, and more. I just want to stay in this world awhile, thank you! Very glad that there are a lot more in the series that I can enjoy next.

*****
I just read this book for the second time and totally enjoyed it. There is so much more humor than one can appreciate the first time through that the series really demands a rereading.

Some of my favorite things about this novel:
  • Mrs. Nakajima, the tourist in Jane Eyre 
  • The Cheshire Cat, in charge of the Library in BookWorld 
  • Time travel enabling the world to end, but not end 
  • That Thursday undergoes a Kafkaesque Trial 
  • That Thursday takes Miss Haversham shopping, or vice versa, with a vengeance

3. The Well of Lost Plots

Thursday, stuck in BookWorld for awhile, is an apprentice prose resource operative (PRO) to Miss Haversham of Great Expectations, learns about the Council on Genres, attends hq meetings at Norland Park in between readings of the beginning of Sense and Sensibility; and she learns of the upgrade to UltraWord, the program that enables the reading of books in the RealWorld.

I really think this whole Thursday Next series is delightful. I love the whole metatext theme and the tension in how a story is created. I love the footnoterphone and the clash of opposing ideologies that shuts it temporarily down. I love the text sea and the stray saxophone popping out of it—much more fun than Venus on a shell, I thought. I love the monsters and the megalomaniacs, the murders and the solutions.

*****
Having reread this book I love so much more about it! The main character, Thursday, gains in complexity, although at core she remains a basic superhero, someone who saves the world regularly and cannot be defeated, although it gets a little sticky at times. She has numerous adventures in this book that play with various other books. Case in point: As Thursday is mentored by none other than man-hating, bitter Miss Haversham, Miss Haversham takes Thursday to a rage-counseling session she is conducting for the characters of Wuthering Heights—it’s either self-consciously clever or brilliantly funny. I kept laughing.

There are delights such as the thousands of spare Mrs. Danvers characters, the footnoterphone gossip about Anna Karenina, and the fun of deciphering 11 “had had” constructions in a row.

The villain this time is in Thursday’s own mind, which raises interesting questions of personality and psychology. Are we our own worst enemies, usually?

4. Something Rotten

Thursday and her 2-year-old son Friday (who speaks Lorem Ipsum) return to Swindon with Hamlet who wants to find out why he is being called a “ditherer” by readers. They live with Thursday’s mother, Wednesday Next, who has Emma Hamilton and Otto von Bismarck there too and runs Eradications Anonymous for family members.

In this book I enjoyed the satire of manufactured religions and crooked saints, the violence of professional sports (croquet, really!), mega-corporations turning into nonprofits, Shakespearean criticism and cloning, tea and cake ceremony, professional assassins and slapstick assassins, the Old West, science fiction, and bodice rippers . . . I love the little silly things, such as this conversation:

“'Darling?' I called out.
“'Yes?' came Landen’s voice from upstairs.
“'I have to go out.'
“'Assassins?'
“'No—megalomaniac tyrants keen on global domination.'
“'Do you want me to wait up?'
“'No, but Friday needs a bath . . .'”

***********
In my rereading, I was struck that the corrupt politician, written as outrageous satire, is now so very close to present reality (2017) that it’s breathtaking. He targets a group to shift onto them the blame for all of society’s ills while secretly conspiring to destroy the nation’s government and engineer a takeover.

Another point I really found interesting was the idea of one (very flawed) character substituting for another at the way station on the M4—a metaphor for death. The idea of a savior is alive and well, though hidden, in this novel.

5. Thursday Next: First Among Sequels

It is now 2002. Thursday and Bowden Cable and Stoker and so forth work for the officially disbanded Spec Ops under cover of running Acme Carpets. Thursday also works in the BookWorld for Jurisfiction, but it’s supposed to be a secret from Landen Parke-Laine, her husband. Her children, Friday and Tuesday, have the usual teenage problems. The third daughter, Jenny, has an existence problem.

I liked this book, although it does have some sort-of-strange going-nowhere plot points and that terrible hanging-thread ending begging the reader to hurry and get the next book in the Next Series about the Next Serial Killer . . . The puns are more convoluted in here.

I love that:
  • Thursday’s uncle Mycroft appears as a ghost. Three times. 
  • Thursday’s stalker, Millon, is still around and is actually one of her allies. 
  • The parachutes appear so late, and then there are such a choice of them. 
  • Pride and Prejudice is being turned into a reality tv show. 
  • The government has a stupidity surplus. HA! 
  • The Mrs. Danvers clones are still around and so menacing. 
  • Taxis are so hard to get. 
  • All the stuff about Thursday’s kids. All of it. 
The metatextual element is more prominent than ever with Thursday encountering her textual selves as apprentices in Jurisfiction. The tension among them all was great fun—but it was also a tad off-putting in one sequence and I didn’t like it.

Then when Real Thursday erases one of the fictional Thursdays, I love that the metatext leads to several pages of graphic novel until Thursday can get back to text. Brilliant!

**************
In rereading this book, the part I didn’t like in my 2013 review didn’t seem to be a problem anymore. I wonder if I misread it the first time through? Or was my reading less careful this time around? Hm. I might have to reread this book again.

Anyway, the wonderful things keep multiplying:
  • That time travel cannot be invented because it involves the recipe for unscrambled eggs and somebody has to eat them . . . ha ha! 
  • The mind-worm that moves from person to person . . . 
  • When Thursday gets marooned, it’s in an ethics seminar, something very similar in my mind to Jean-Paul Sartre’s setting in No Exit.


6. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

Thursday Next is missing, as the written Thursday finds out, and Written Thursday spends the book finding out why and how to get her back.

2013 Review. I love all the Thursday Next series, and this one provided a very interesting tale of the development of a written character—it’s almost an allegory. These books are for the bibliophiles among us, with puns, references, and allusions and everything wordly and novelly possible.

One of my favorite lines: “Welcome to the Classics. Have an eloquent day.”

**********
Upon rereading this novel, I was very happy to rediscover the convoluted political plot and murder plot combined, and the absolute joy of watching a fictional character develop depth and breadth.

Fun stuff:
  • Written Thursday in the RealWorld can see all imaginative characters, including Jenny, because the imagination is fundamentally fiction. 
  • Written Acheron feels guilty every time he throws Bertha off the roof of Thornfield. 
  • The Great Fire of London was invented as a cover-up to some of the fiascos going on in Samuel Pepys’ diary. 
  • Written Pickwick is extremely annoying and picky—the opposite of the mellow and sweet Real Pickwick. 
  • If a fictional character in BookWorld has to hit the Snooze button, which sends every reader of that book simultaneously to instant sleep, a kitten is killed, but only fictionally.
  • But when the Daphne Farquitt novels all have to be shut down simultaneously, they figure out an Exception so that no kittens (even fictional ones) have to be killed in the process.


7. The Woman Who Died a Lot

2013—In this latest Thursday Next novel, I loved that it was set wholly in the “real” world—or what passes for the real world in the Thursday Next series—and picks up a few months after the end of the previous novel, but without any annoying miraculous cure for the very serious injuries Thursday had sustained. I missed Real Thursday, so having this book entirely concern her and her family was satisfying on a series level. It was also satisfying to see the resolution of several series plotlines that had been dangling from earlier novels, but we are still left with a major thread that is promised for the next Next book.

I saw that one reviewer said Thursday is becoming boring as she ages—I cannot disagree more. She is gaining depth all the time, and her experiences ring very true to one who is close to her fictional age.

*********
2017—In rereading this novel, I still believe that this series is one of the best things I ever discovered. But the series seems to have ended here as I haven’t seen any credible evidence yet of a Book 8, despite the cliff-hanger ending here in Book 7.

My favorite thing about this book is that the Global Standard Deity, which exists simply because of Expectation Influenced Probability Theory, has announced a major Smiting of downtown Swindon, and efforts to avoid the Smiting come up against the government’s ultra-low levels of the National Stupidity Index, to our hilarious enjoyment of the usual Jasper Ffordian world.

Thursday Next is battling a growing dependence on painkillers in the form of butt-patches, and the ever-evil Goliath Corporation’s continual replacement of Thursday by their clones leads to the logic in the title of this book, but there is joy in the fact that the clones don’t need the patches and thus Thursday can detect who’s who if pain is missing. It’s an elaborately silly joke, which makes it all the more enjoyable, especially in light of the plot twist with those clones.

**Spoiler Alert** DO NOT READ THE FINAL PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE WOMAN WHO DIED A LOT.

If we never get a Book 8, it could make sense because Thursday has gone into the Dark Reading Matter, the space between books in the BookWorld, and there may be nothing there or there may be something. At the end of book 7, Pickwick went over and seemed to be projecting back images, suggesting she was still existing. So Thursday follows. If we never get Book 8, it will mean there was nothing there, and we’ll know that’s the end of Thursday, sad, but oddly fitting that she sacrificed herself for her Dodo, the extinct pet.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Plates of Travels

**Update at the end!**

My kitchen is being remodeled, so I have taken down the decorative plates to wash and store until the major work is done. This is a good time to reflect on the memories stored in those plates.

My son wanted to go to Hawaii to celebrate graduating from high school, but after we booked a cruise, we were informed that the ship had sunk at its dock in San Diego, and we canceled. Instead, we drove down to Los Angeles and visited relatives, and then we drove slowly north along the Pacific coast from there to Astoria, Oregon. Here are the first plates from our trip, one of the incredible Hearst Castle near San Simeon, and another commemorating Monterey, where I spent an awful lot of weekends when I was growing up.


My favorite place at Hearst Castle was the indoor swimming pool. If you have never seen it, here is one of my photographs of a part of it. My second favorite place there was the library, but it’s all roped off so you can’t even browse the book spines through their decorative glass case doors. Ah well. One can dream of a library like that anyway.

Before we got to Monterey, we spent some time in Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo—more familiarly known as Mission Carmel. As a child I hadn’t appreciated the terrible times inflicted on the native peoples by the Spanish conquistadors. Learning it now was scary as I can’t think the human race has improved any.

In Monterey we walked down Cannery Row and played on the shore a little. We met a baby seal who was begging for attention. Nobody got too close of course, except a funny seagull that walked right up to the baby and turned its head this way and that as if to ask what all the fuss was about—meanwhile, we all took a lot of pictures. Teams of rowers were practicing out on the bay, and we ate dinner on the pier, watching the sunset out the windows of the restaurant.

The next set of plates are from Oregon, obviously. Since most of my parents’ families lived there (and most still do), we spent a lot of time there on vacations, and after my younger sister graduated from high school, my parents moved back there for about ten years, so I went there a lot more. I ended up doing some of my graduate work at University of Oregon as well. I love Oregon. Two of my favorite places there are Cannon Beach and Multnomah Falls.

I love the ocean and can sit looking at the surf for hours. I especially like sitting on the beach at night, listening to the breakers and watching the stars if it’s clear, and waiting for the rain if it’s not.

Meanwhile, Multnomah Falls is simply awesome. The best thing to do is to get off the interstate highway and take the old Columbia River Highway scenic drive, stopping at each of the waterfalls along the way. You start in Troutdale and head up to Crown Point, where there’s a lovely little vista house. Then come Latourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and the great Multnomah Falls. Then Horsetail Falls, Ponytail Falls, Oneonta Falls, Upper Oneonta, and Triple Falls. At Bonneville Dam and Lock, you can go in and see Herman the Sturgeon, who is more than 60 years old—I saw him when we were both young and my brothers told me if I fell in his pool he’d eat me—and now he is ten feet long. Awesome.

We were in Germany twelve years ago. I’d been the southern parts many years ago, but this was when we returned to the cities where my husband had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent ten months in each of three cities: Flensburg, Celle, and Berlin (he was there before the Wall was built). These wooden plates come from his time there, and the porcelain plates are the ones we bought all those years later.

Flensburg was where my husband met a boy who badly wanted to be sponsored to come to the United States, and my husband’s aunt agreed to sponsor him. The boy was serving his apprenticeship and had to finish before he could leave, and that was just two months after my husband’s missionary service was finished, so my husband traveled around Europe on a shoestring until time to pick up Heinz and take the boat to New York.

Celle is a beautiful city with a lovely castle, a church with a high tower, and medieval houses everywhere. It was untouched by the bombs of World War Two, fortunately. We found the people there especially warm and kind, and we ended up returning there for another few days toward the end of our travels. On our way back there, we went off the beaten track and met a wonderful couple who put us up in their home and sent us to one of their favorite places, Hachmühlen, for dinner and entertainment. It was wonderful. If you are ever in Hamelin (of Pied Piper fame), head northeast on the 217 and you will come to Hachmühlen.

Berlin is a city nobody should miss. It is vibrant and beautiful and at the time we were there, filled with building cranes as if the city couldn’t wait to finish rising from its ashes like the phoenix. We stayed in the Tempelhof district, where my husband had long ago served as a branch president for the LDS Church. Going to church there was quite fun. Our son knew only two or three words of German, but my husband is still fluent and I know enough to follow speeches and conversation, even if I can’t join in very well anymore. So we had fun meeting lovely people and talking with them. Touring was great. There is so much to see that the city needs weeks and weeks, not just one week, to see a good sampling of what it has to offer. I would love to go back there.

The next summer after we’d gone to Germany, we went to Israel. The Jerusalem plate reminds me of the colors and busy-ness of the city. It is an intense experience to walk through the streets and streets of markets, and to visit all the historic sites that Christians like to see. We bought these plates actually in Bethlehem, where we were given a sales lecture on how the Christian community there is being slowly eradicated by social and financial conditions. So I felt that I had to buy something, and of course I wanted to add to my plate collection. Bethlehem was the only place where we met up with anti-American violence. Some youths began throwing rocks at us and yelling, but they were hustled away by seemingly dozens of uniformed officers who appeared immediately. In fact, most of our group were unaware that anything had happened. We were accompanied by young soldiers one day as we walked around the walls of the city of Jerusalem. They were really assigned to accompany a group of schoolchildren, but there were fewer children than had been expected, so a couple of the soldiers attached themselves to us and told us all about their service and conditions as they saw them. It was most interesting.


In July 2012 we stayed in Dublin for ten days and spent a number of days seeing sights in that fair city, after which we spent a few days taking day trips out around the countryside. My favorite time there was an afternoon at the Rock of Dunamase in pouring rain, running around the ruins laughing as we became simply drenched, slipping on the wet grass, and laughing harder when our son came around a corner and presented us with an umbrella with a V-shaped handle after he had used it to catch himself from falling. Unlike in the Irish blessing on this plate, the rain did not fall softly that day, but we enjoyed it nevertheless.

We took a fast ferry boat over to Anglesey and then the train to Windermere. The Lake District is one of my very favorite places, as I spent a couple of summers there studying Wordsworth and the Romantic poets when I was in college. We had a few perfect days there, and then traveled to Bath, where we acquired these plates. We wanted to go to Wales, but nobody wanted to drive this time, so we signed up for a tour, we thought, of the Black Mountains. But it turned out to be a sort of old-folks’ excursion, with stops in Abergavenny and Crickhowell. Still, we had a lovely time with the people on the coach and an interesting time looking at things. There was a film crew doing a scene in the tea shop in Abergavenny, and several of the tour group managed to inveigle their way into the shot and regaled us with their dreams of being spotted and handed lucrative contracts in the future, very tongue-in-cheek. Oh, and we can’t forget the lunch of the very best fish and chips and mushy peas ever, in Crickhowell, made and served by two Arabic brothers. We foreigners do love assimilating British culture!


Here are a few of my favorite photographs of that trip.
Rock of Dunamase in the rain
Esthwaite Water -- enroute to Hawkshead
The angel in the Crickhowell churchyard