Something Rotten

The bad part about buying books in Canada is that they are often from Great Britain.

This sounds wrong, intuitively. For me, at least, mentioning “books” and “England” in the same sentence conjures up an image of a sober, thoughtful old gent, reading a thick, leatherbound volume with a sewn-in silk bookmark while comfortably – but not indulgently – ensconced in a leather chair. The smell of pipe smoke is in the air. Later, when the boys come by and the time for reading is done, the port will be passed.

Perhaps your image of “British books” is similarly reverent. If this is the case, I urge you not to buy any, for if you do, your image will be destroyed when you buy your first one and realize that British books suck. Oh, not the writing, I imagine that they have the same distribution of quality as anywhere else in the world with readers and writers. I mean the books themselves. The physical objects. The paper is garbage. The ink smears. The bindings are weakly glued. They are absolutely disgraceful along every axis.

I always manage to forget this when I visit Toronto, and am overwhelmed by the heady perfume of paper and ink and the fact that I’m in a city that seems to have 2 used bookstores per block, and I spend $150 on books, some of which are inevitably of British manufacture. The final straw came on my most recent trip, where I bought a copy of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and the last pages in the book started falling out before I’d finished the second chapter.

So why buy them at all? Impatience, mostly. Some books never make it to the US except as imports (some of Iain M. Banks’ works seems to fall into this category, for some reason I can’t discern.) Other books are simply released in Britain (and therefore Canada) somewhat earlier than in the US. Like Jasper Fforde’s latest, Something Rotten; the trade paperback is available at Bakka and other fine bookstores. And it’s worth mentioning, given the the long introduction, that my copy hasn’t fallen apart yet. Knock on wood.

I was originally of two minds about Something Rotten. I enjoyed it because it continues the adventures of Fforde’s Thursday Next character (it’s the fourth book in the series), and manages to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion; a logical stopping point, even. I was worried, though, because I felt like it might not be the end. And I wanted it to be the end. I’ve really, really enjoyed Thursday Next. And it’s time for Fforde to stop writing about her for a while.

I needn’t have worried – while not explicitly saying he’s done with Thursday Next for eternity, Fforde indicates on his website that his next project will be something more, as he puts it, “standalone.” Good.

Something Rotten is a delight to those of us who have been reading the Next story from the beginning. In addition to the usual gamut of amusing names (a stalker named “Millon DeFloss” is the one that sticks in my mind), it’s clear that Fforde has been spending a lot of the past year listening to the way politicians talk:

‘Thank you, Tudor. Yes, I condemn utterly and completely the Terrible Thing in the strongest possible terms. We in the Whig Party are appalled by the way in which Terrible Things are done in this great nation of ours with no retribution against the Somebody who did them.’

It was only a page or so later that I had my first involuntary audible giggle:

’…I’d like to wander completely off the point and talk about the Health Service Overhaul that we will launch next year. We want to replace the outdated “preventative” style of healthcare this country has relentlessly pursued with a “wait until it gets really bad” system which will target those most in need of medical treatment – the sick. Yearly health screenings for all citizens will end and will be replaced by a “tertiary” diagnostic regime which will save money and resources.’

Come November 3rd, no doubt, you’ll find me under my bed, weeping hysterically, reading and re-reading that paragraph. But for right now it still makes me laugh

Something Rotten is a much stronger outing than Fforde’s previous novel, The Well of Lost Plots, which was essentially an extended exercise in elaborating on things that ought not to have been elaborated on. So much of the vitality and freshness in The Eyre Affair came from the jovial sense of chaos imparted to the reader by the discovery of the strange universe of books and their characters. It was enough to know that this world existed. Delving into the details of the world’s rules simply destroyed the mystery. _Something Rotten _ veers sharply away from this overexplication and is, at its core, a much more emotionally open and human book.

As I said, if you’ve been with Thursday Next from the start, you’ll enjoy Something Rotten. If you’ve never read any of the Thursday Next books, I can’t in good conscience recommend that you read Something Rotten yet. But the first novel in the cycle, The Eyre Affair, is yours for the taking, and that I can recommend without hesitation.

As for me, I’m looking forward to his next, Nextless, novel.

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