Genre busting

<strong>First Among Sequels</strong>

Jasper Fforde <em>Hodder, 416pp, £12.99</em>

Swindon, 2002. On top of the usual daily challenges of a working mother – slothful teenage son, truculent adolescent daughter, sweet but slightly hopeless husband, demanding job at Swindon’s foremost floor-covering emporium – Thursday Next is coping with a literary world that is is edging towards apocalypse. For she’s not just a carpet-fitter: Thursday is an undercover agent for Jurisfiction, “the policing agency within books . . . Jurisfiction agents live mostly on their wits as they attempt to reconcile the author’s original wishes and the reader’s expectations with a strict and largely pointless set of bureaucratic guidelines laid down by the Council of Genres.”

Fforde describes a melange of the mundane and the phantasmagorical that reads like a well-edited Harry Potter; First Among Sequels is for adults who want sophisticated wit with their fantasy, but who still possess an appreciation for the intricate world-building of a well-imagined children’s novel. Canonical in-jokes abound, possibly rendering the book a challenge for anyone without an A-level in English literature. But the unashamedly bookish will find it satisfying: what dedicated reader would not laugh at the suggestion of a parallel universe in which Jude the Obscure is renowned as a comic novel?

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Road fix