Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nursery Crimes

Jasper Fforde writes novels that, as he said last night at a reading at the Lincoln Square Barnes and Noble, "get into your head and play with your mind." His two series, the Thursday Next novels, and the Nursery Crimes series, are nearly impossible to describe, at least in a paragraph or two. (He said as much last night, excusing me from the challenge of describing his work here in writing. Actually, he said, "if you can describe my books in a sentence, then you haven't really got it, have you?") It helps to refer to Lewis Carroll, Douglas Adams, and Dashiell Hammett in attempting to communicate what his books are like.

His stories are a rich mixture of alternative history, surrealism, zaniness, classic, academic and popular literature, detective fiction,geography, popular culture, logic, illogic and wordplay. In the Thursday Next series, his protagonist is a detective who has to physically enter into works of fiction to prevent bad guys from nefarious deeds that require the manipulation of well-known plots and characters. In the Nursery Crimes series, a detective agency is responsible for solving murders and mysteries that take place in the world of well-known Mother Goose nursery rhymes. I am almost finished with The Big Over Easy where detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary (who is very professional despite her inability to resist being contrary) are following up on the mysterious doings around Humpty Dumpty's fall. Was it murder and if so, who would have motive and means to do in this popular egg who has left a mysterious trail of lovers, stock manipulations, and other questionable dealings behind?

To dip into Fforde's work, start with The Eyre Affair, his first published book, where his heroine, Thursday Next (that's her name, not an appointment) is introduced. The success of that book propelled him to continue the Thursday Next stories and then, at his publisher's request, to resurrect the Nursery Crimes books that he had written earlier and had failed to get published. I have seen him speak twice and his directness and honesty about himself, his writing and his books don't detract from the same playfulness, wit, and verbal antics that make his books so much fun. He also spoke about Lewis Carroll last night and urged us all to read the chapter about the White Knight in Through the Looking Glass. I intend to do that, perhaps this evening.


  1. I always thought there was plenty sinister about Mother Goose herself--or maybe it was the giant, vacant-eyed goose she sat atop of. Fforde's novels sound like an excellent exploration of the dark side of the nursery...

  2. I agree and I think you would enjoy Fforde's take. These are not sweet characters. They are very recognizable in our world as well. The writing is dense (i.e. every page is chock-full of references, puns, and allusions) and I prefer to read the books two chapters at a time.