Thursday, October 25, 2018

'Early Riser' by Jasper Fforde

25 October 2018

Regular readers may remember my enthusiasm for Jasper Fforde’s silly fantasy novels, particularly the Nursery Crimes series (reviewed here in April and October 2007), his Thursday Next literary detective series (reviewed here in August, September and October 2008, February and April 2009 and April 2012) and his 'Dragonslayer' young-adult fantasy novels (‘The Last Dragonslayer’ reviewed here in August 2014). I was less taken with his more serious post-apocalyptic dystopian novel ‘Shades of Grey’ (no, not that one! – reviewed here in April 2011), intended as the first in a series but not yet followed up. Jasper Fforde’s new novel ‘Early Riser’, which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Thomas Hunt, is his first deliberately stand-alone novel. And this feels like a successful blend of what he was trying to achieve with ‘Shades of Grey’ and the comic parallel-world versions of real places from his earlier series. After his bizarre alternative-reality versions of Reading (Nursery Crimes), Swindon (Thursday Next) and Hereford (Dragonslayer), ‘Early Riser’ is set in weirdly recognisable but significantly different Wales. In this reality severe five-month winters (caused by some catastrophic but unexplained climate change) mean the majority of the population have to hibernate in order to survive. Only a few hardy ‘consuls’ stay awake to police the savage winter months. It’s a high concept novel, drawn in intricate detail but with enough reference to the real world to make it relatively easy to follow. I missed the silly humour of Fforde’s earlier novels but I enjoyed the unravelling mystery plot and the cast of eccentric but loveable characters. (You’ve got to love the night-walker zombie Mrs Tiffin, doomed to endlessly play ‘Help Yourself’ by Tom Jones on the bouzouki!). It was lovely to see a reprise (from the Thursday Next novels) of the Wales Tourist Board slogan ‘Wales: not always raining’. And interesting to see the parallel between the parts of the action that take place within fictional books in the Thursday Next series and within dreams in ‘Early Riser’. It was also nice to have a self-contained plot which properly resolves itself rather than just preparing for a sequel – though I will miss Charlie ‘Wonky’ Worthing and his friends. But “we’ll always have the Gower”.



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