The Gone Away World ★★★★

[Reread a year and a half later, and I actually like this book MORE than the first time. My major complaints then were that the surprise ending was too much of a surprise. But rereading it now, and knowing that surprise already, moved my focus from “Tell me what happened” to “tell me how and why and when and where ALL of it happened.” Which this book does, and does amazingly well. Already knowing the big twist made me focus on the actual storytelling. And what storytelling it is, beautiful and witty and enthralling. Yay.]

This is one of those reviews that is impossible to start. The book was intense, and well written, and wonderfully creative. But what could I possibly say that wouldn’t give everything away? This books almost *needs* to be experienced going into it blind.

It is written entirely in first person narrative, and the style is intensely personal. Instead of feeling like you’re just following the main character around seeing what he sees and hearing what he says, you know you are there, inside his head. Its one part stream of consciousness, and one part past-tense vivid reminiscence. The author writes ridiculously long run-on sentences, but in the sort of way where you don’t notice until you’re halfway down a paragraph and realize you’re just now finishing the thought that he started six lines ago. It grabs you, and holds your attention for several sentence worths of words. The book is also full of witty one-liners that make you giggle, or make you sad, or just make you apreciate words and all the varieties of things they can mean. And you want to share them as quotes, but you realize the moment you take them away from their surrounding context, they actually don’t mean the same thing anymore. They’re whole philosophies built into one sentence, but in fact they need the 500-some pages of background support to actually mean what you read.

The main character and Gonzo have been best friends since childhood. They are the perfect foils to eachother; One a man of action, the other a man of thought. Gonzo has a crazy idea, and he has to come up with the plan that wont get them both in trouble. They both study martial arts in childhood, from a silly wise old man who is most definitely not a secret ninja, definitely not. They go to the same college, and eventually somehow both end up in the special operations military, fighting a nonsense-war in a distant country. And then someone creates the Go-Away bomb and nothing in the world is the same anymore.

If this book has a flaw, it is that the climax has one of those mind-blowing revelations that’s supposed to be the BIG SURPRISE TWIST. And trust me, it IS a surprise twist, you don’t really see it coming. But as with most twists like that, the reader feels a bit cheated and used. 350 pages in, and you’ve been lying to me the whole time?! But I thought we were friends! And the other flaw with big twists, is that they never make one hundred percent logical sense. There are definitely plot holes where you go “wait, what about _____.” And I have to admit, one of the “great secrets” that you finally learn about is a little TOO overdramatic and silly. The only thing I could think of when I read it was that infamous moment: “Soylent Green is PEOPLE!”

The first three quarters of the book weren’t precisely slow, but they were excruciatingly detailed and very much thought out. The last quarter of the book is fast and dramatic in a jumping-out-of-a-plane sort of way, but where the parachute never opens, you just end up on the ground looking up at the sky and wishing you’d gotten that slow moment to actually look at what you were approaching and see the whole thing from a point of view where it actually all fits together.

And really, I think that’s all I can say about it. I refuse to actually give any details because I think it only makes sense when you read it, and maybe not even then. But its definitely not the sort of book you can describe to someone. If anyone out there has read it and wants to discuss it, I’d love to do that. Maybe you have some insights that fit the pieces of it together than the way in which I put them together, because I’m still seeing plot holes? Or maybe that’s the point, and its not supposed to make perfect sense….

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing ★★★★

I am a fan of Jasper Fforde. And when I say I’m a fan, I mean I started reading his books in middle school. The Eyre Affair was the book I recommended to everyone. My family bought each new installment of the TN series the moment it came out. In highschool, we flew to England to be there for the very first Fforde Ffestival. We bought a whole new set of the TN series just to have the british covers, and so that Fforde could sign them. And when he came to our random unimportant city to do a book reading and signing, we saw him there too. And waved creepily from the back of the room when he asked if anyone had made it to the Ffestival. We are Jasper Fforde fans.

And yet, this book didn’t quite do it for me like his others. It was great, don’t get me wrong. Its still better than even the good sci-fi/fantasy I normally read. But I didn’t feel nearly the same connection to the characters that I’d become accustomed to. And while it was infinitely creative in the same way that Shades of Grey was, I felt it was a bit lacking in the intensity of its plot.

The “real” Thursday Next has gone missing, and the written Thursday has been thrown into the intrigues of the book world while trying to find her. In the process of which she gains a clock-work butler, meets the imaginary daughter of the real Thursday, promotes the Toast Marketing Board, and goes through the usual shenanigans with the cross genre taxis. And really, that’s all I can say about the plot. Not because I don’t want to give anything away (though I don’t!), but also because the plot wasn’t very involved or complicated by Fforde standards.

Mostly I felt that this novel was a chance for Fforde to show off his world-building skills. Which is great, I love the new wacky book world! It has his unique touch of slightly insane, completely illogical, but still possible to visually imagine and believe in!

This book was also chock full of the meta-references we’ve all come to love. I mean, who else could pull of writing a book, that’s set inside a book that we’ve already read, which is set inside other books that we’ve read! … And have it all actually sort of make sense! Sometimes though, it got to be a little much. I felt like he often broke narrative just for little reminders of Hey, you’re reading about the book world! Or Look how clever I am to think of this idea! Yes, yes, Jasper Fforde you are insanely clever. I admire you greatly! But don’t you think you could tell me a little more about this written Thursday Next? She’s not *our* Thursday, we know that, you’ve told us that, but you haven’t shown us that yet, not really. We can’t love her yet, because we just don’t know her!

I will give Jasper Fforde props for the ending. Since about page 10, when I realized that the title “One of our Thursdays is Missing” didn’t specify WHICH Thursday was missing, there were two things I desperately didn’t want to happen. I didn’t want it to turn out that the real Thursday was dead, and have the written Thursday become real and step right into our old Thursday’s shoes. I’m not sure I could have kept reading the series if that had happened. And secondly, I didn’t want it to turn out that the real Thursday had been mind-boggled into believing she was the written Thursday just to keep her safe from some other intrigue that was going on. And, Jasper Fforde, being the genius that he is, realized the readers might guess these things were possible! So what does he do? We take a little trip into psychological thriller, where characters try to convince our written Thursday that this is what’s happened. But of course, he never intended to cheat us in that way, and the real Thursday is found alive and well.