'The Woman Who Died a Lot' by Jasper Fforde26 April 2012
It’s some time since I last visited the wonderfully silly parallel-universe Swindon inhabited by Jasper Fforde’s literary detective, Thursday Next (‘First Among Sequels’, reviewed here in April 2009). So it was a great pleasure to reacquaint myself with Thursday’s friends, family, colleagues and enemies in Jasper Fforde’s new Thursday Next novel, ‘The Woman Who Died a Lot’. If you haven’t worked your way through the Thursday Next canon I suspect this would be completely incomprehensible: even an experienced Nextian has to pay attention to work out what is going on. This is a tale of the after-effects of the end of time travel, the use of dodos to explore unpublished fiction and the difficulties of knowing whether the body you are inhabiting is your own or a time-limited replica. I’m not sure whether you would call this science fiction, fantasy or comedy: it’s delightfully silly and very clever. Despite the complexity of the plot ‘The Woman Who Died a Lot’ felt like light relief after Fforde’s very different previous novel 'Shades of Grey' (no, not that one! – reviewed here in April 2011) which I found hard work. I was pleased to be reminded of the tourist slogan of the Socialist Republic of Wales (“not always raining”), to finally twig that ‘Thursday Next’ is itself a line from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and to discover that there is now an annual gathering of Jasper Fforde fans in Swindon (obviously) which is inevitably called the ‘Fforde Fiesta’!