At the recommendation of a work colleague, I have recently read my first Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair. For those of you, like me, who are ignorant of Fforde, he apparently writes two series of books - one known as Nursery Crimes, I am told, and the other - of which this is the first - known by the name of the heroine as the Thursday Next books.
The Eyre Affair is set in the present, but a radically different present to the one we know; the Crimean War is still being fought, Wales is an independent socialist republic, and the uniting thread of the state is love of literature. Much crime, therefore, is centred around books, and Thursday is a literary detective, dealing with a master criminal with some supernatural powers who is intent on changing Jane Eyre in a way I ought not to reveal in case it spoils the story for you. Some characters can - at great risk of eternal imprisonment or exclusion - slip in and out of real life and works of literature. And time travel is possible, though occasional and hazardous, and Next's father is a rogue member of the Chronoguard. One of their songs has the lines:
"For I dipped into the past, far as SpecOps twelve could see
- saw a vision of the world and all the options there could be!"
You get the idea. There are some lovely fantastic touches, and the whole book is well written and amusing, with lots of literary and historical jokes (though you don't need to be a walking library to get them or to follow the story), and a jolly good, strong plot. An excellent book for a plane or train, rather better than that recommendation would normally suggest.
In choosing his heroine's name, Fforde must have been concious of the echo it would create from G K Chesterton's delightful story, The Man Who was Thursday, a pleasing anarchist fantasy with some lovely adventures. Although utterly fantastic (the sub title is A Nightmare) there is no time travelling. But I also think of the mighty Borges, who as usual does in half a dozen pages (well, eleven) what most authors can't manage in a full length novel in The Garden of Forking Paths. At once, this is a spy story, a meditation on time, labyrinths and multiple universes, and a gloss on some aspects of Chinese thought - and it's sheer delight to read and re-read. You can find it in the collection, Labyrinths. Let me offer you just two sentences:
"He turned his back on me for a moment; he opened a drawer of the black and gold desk. He faced me and in his hands he held a sheet of paper that had once been crimson, but was now pink and tenuous and cross-sectioned. The fame of Ts'ui Pên as a calligrapher had been justly won. I read, uncomprehendingly and with fervor, these words written with a minute brush by a man of my blood: I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths."