It was with great anticipation that I daily checked my library's reserve system for the fifth installment of the Thursday Next series. Jasper Fforde's reputation for enjoyable, witty and fast moving texts had it at the top of my "things to read list."
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
I went into the novel fully prepared to be swept along with the insanity of jumping between a very bizarre version of England in the 80s and classic British literature. Fforde's books to date have been amazing satires and blends of humor with moments of "Oh, right, DUH!" when he sneaks in a reference to a book or poem read while suffering through English Major undergrad with a focus on Shakespeare and Brit Romantics.
Fforde's fifth novel in the series went too many ways with too many distractions. The redoubtable Thursday is back. SpecOps has been dissolved, so now they're running it underground with a carpeting business front and she keeps hopping in and out of BookWorld when she's supposed to be on SpecialOps work. Add in two apprentice Thursdays: an evil one from her "first four books" which are nothing like the works Fforde authored and an imaginary fifth book that has a hippie version of Thursday (who is into macrame, etc). Toss in an imaginary child created by Aornis' imagination, a Chronoguard War against itself and two versions of her son Friday and not nearly enough appearances by Mrs. TiggyWinkle and Emperor Zhork. Overall Fforde seemed distracted pulling Thursday six different directions and ending with weak resolutions for everything.
The book is unfocused and lacking a lot of the intelligence of the previous books. Fforde seems to have run out of steam when it comes to inventive and creative names--playing with rather tedious and obvious word plays in stead of subtle digs at Brit lit. The new literary characters introduced are only the Thursdays, which is disappointing. In earlier texts I enjoyed meeting Marianne Dashwood and I really enjoyed Hamlet from the fourth book. This book left me hoping that it was going to get better but ultimately it never did. There were squeamish and stupid moments that weren't worth it and didn't make for a good laugh. All in all it took the better part of a week to read, and that was because I kept setting it down and walking away .
I would still continue to recommend the first books in the series but unless there is some regrouping by Fforde, I doubt I would advise readers go further in the series than book four.