Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Big Over Easy—Jasper Fforde

"How about this: 'Big egg gets a shellful, throws himself off wall in fit of drunken depression.' Or this: 'Humpty goes to party, gets completely smashed, comes home and...gets completely smashed.'" (57)

"There's usually a rule of three somewhere. Either quantitative, as in bears, billy goats, blind mice, little pigs, fiddlers, bags of wool or what-have-you, or qualitative, such as small, medium, large, stupid, stupider, stupidest. If you come across any stepmothers, they're usually evil, woodcutters always come into fame and fortune, orphans are ten a penny, and pigs, cats, bears and wolves frequently anthropomorphize." (58)

Jasper Fforde is another one of my personal favourites. His writing is intelligent and inventive and thoroughly enjoyable. I thought that I had already read this particular book when I purchased it from Half Price Books to add to my library - it was in the clearance section for $2.00 - but then quickly realized I had not. The first series of Fforde's I read was that of Thursday Next which is about a detective, Thursday Next, who is hired to work in a department where she polices what happens in books! She travels into the books and makes sure that the characters are towing the line to maintain the plot for readers. My short description there cannot begin to do justice to the brilliance that is the Thursday Next series, so you should definitely check it out.

This is the first of the Nursery Crime Mysteries. (Get it?! Nursery crime? Like nursery rhyme? Delightful!) Sergeant Mary Mary is transferred to the Nursery Crime Department. She's not pleased at first, as the Nursery Crime division is the ridicule of the entire police force. She works with Detective Jack Spratt in order to solve the death of Humpty Dumpty, who seems to have taken a tumble off of a wall.

Fforde is incredibly thoughtful about the way that he ties the nursery rhyme stories together. Although Jack Spratt is obviously meant to come from the nursery rhyme about Jack Spratt, who would eat no fat, Fforde also manages to tie him into the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. It's something that I had never considered, but who is to say that those two Jacks are meant to be different ones? In this book which is our first introduction to Jack Spratt, we hear explanations of how his first wife had died because she only ate fat ("Jack Spratt would eat no fat, his wife would eat no lean") and how he then married his second and current wife. We also meet his mother, who sends him with a painting to sell in order to buy food for her many cats - a painting of a cow. Jack is told that it is a fake, and is traded some beans for it, beans which grow into a beanstalk.

Fforde also creates beautiful mysteries on top of his thoughtful character development. In this book, as with his other books, it seems the mystery is there until the end. He may give you hints, but I always end up thinking that the resolution is going to be completely different than it ends up being.

A marvelous part of Fforde's writing is the intro to chapters. At the beginning of every chapter, in this book and likewise in his Thursday Next series, he includes a paragraph, ostensibly from a book or newspaper that exist in the scope of the Nursery Crime world. These paragraphs relate to the events in that chapter. He also includes "posters" of ads in the back of his books which directly relate to the story. What it all amounts to is an incredible dedication and thoroughness in order to completely create this world for readers.

It's quite lovely to read such engaging, creative writing and Jasper Fforde has gotten as close to perfecting it as I've managed to find.