Fiction Reviews

The Woman Who Died a Lot

(2012) Jasper Fforde, Hodder and Stoughton, hrdbk, £16.99, 380pp, ISBN 978-0-340-96311-1


Fanfare of trumpets, or blasting, jarring note from a kazoo, because here we have the seventh in the Tuesday Next series, and it is a neatly-packaged little book with a cracking retro cover illustration by 'The Red Dress' – not a person’s real name methinks, and also finishes with a couple of added extras – or 'special features' as they are labelled – at the end of the book, but this is not your normal extract from the next Next novel and a Q&A with the author. No, here, after 418 pages of narrative action, we get a couple of equally retro ads which are lovingly illustrated for things like 'Age-Fast' and the 'Fforde Fiesta', and a few others, all with the ability to raise a wry smile or chuckle.

Raising a smile, or a laugh, or a groan is what this series is about since that is part of the mix in a tale of deering-do with added punnery. This is book seven in the series that started with “The Eyre Affair”, so therefore not a recommended place to start for those readers wishing to take up Tuesday’s adventures, although this book does mark a significant new phase in her life, but there are enough story arcs and references not to make it a good place to start even if there is a distinct lack of BookJumping, and encounters with literary characters, although it is nice to see that there is a place for the Enid Blyton Fundamentalists who not only want the text of Enid’s books to be restored to their original glory they would not mind if the whole world were run on those lines too.

While we have no Bookworld, we do have the stomping ground of the world of the Dark Reading Matter where stories exist, even without the actual birthing process of being actually, uh, written. I suspect that world is going to loom large in the series for several books to come. As for Tuesday herself, she has been sidelined after an assassination attempt on her life which obviously didn’t kill her, but it did leave her with double-vision, problems using her left arm, and having to walk with a stick. Time for some time off, if only as she heads back home to Swindon to find that things are not that great on the home front. Her son’s would-be career is stalling, her daughter is struggling to finish off a much-needed Anti-Smote device that will save Swindon being smote by an angry god known as Standard Deity, and if smiting wasn’t a bad thing (it is bad, isn’t it),there’s also an asteroid on a collision course . Finally – well, not really, there’s also the little matter of the other daughter who may or may not exist thanks to an implanted Mindworm courtesy of Aornis Hades in a previous book, and those scenes are different from the usual fare of the book, almost poignant, somebody pass me a hankie.

If all of that doesn’t sound enough, Tuesday has to do something, and this is to become a librarian, but in Fforde’s world that doesn’t involve standing behind a counter, collecting fines and telling people to 'shoosh', this is job with more than a bit of clout attached to it, which leads to a whole series of sub-plots clambering overreach other like new-born puppies.

To sum up: an enjoyable romp that is not the best in the series, nor the worst, but we do miss the literary characters and situations. As usual, Fforde has a kitchen sink, or juggling with too many balls, approach to the plot, and some of the elements come off and some don’t, and there was a slight viewpoint/logic glitch in there for the eagle-eyed reader to spot All in all, this is more than treading water, and I suppose more than enough to keep the Tuesday Next fan hooked for the next book, and probably the next one after that. But gold star for the best use of the word ”TK Maxx” and a nice take on gun-totting nuns.

Ian Hunter

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