Something Rotten is the fourth in Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series. I am a big fan of Fforde – he has a comic inventiveness mixed with erudition that is rare in today’s literature. He is hard to categorise – comic fiction certainly, but that is only the start of it. In Thursday Next he has created an original character that you genuinely care about (if not identify with) and her separation from and eventual reunion with her husband is quite touching. So why was I left a bit underwhelmed at the end of this book?
I am pretty sure it is not because his standards are slipping. There are some negative features of a series of novels that are unavoidable – for example we know the principal character will almost certainly survive, no matter what – in this case a bullet to the head is shrugged off in a couple of chapters – so there is little if any tension about the final outcome. As we know what is going to happen, the only interest rests in how we get there, not where we are going. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges ahead for Thursday in the rest of the series I am sure.
I think the heart of the problem is in the way I have been reading these books – that is, altogether, without any significant breaks. Imagine if you read all of the Harry Potter series in one go, not over the ten or so years they were published. The impact would have been completely different. The suspense would be seriously diminished, the changes in style and pace would be much more obvious, plot discrepancies would jump out at you, and the point at which Rowling’s editors gave up – at the end of “Prisoner” – would be stark. Even knowing that there were seven books in the series, and that it has a definition conclusion, would make the experience different to reading each as it was published (or in my case joining the party at 4 and working back, hurriedly). That experience would be hard but not impossible to create, but I think explains some of my staleness with Fforde. So the simple prescription is a break from this series – the only remaining question is – Where next?