Top critical review
Not too bad for a first effort
on April 27, 2003
Jasper Fforde (is this a real name?--I doubt it!) has put togther a reasonably amusing and workmanlike (workwomanlike?) first novel which we are promised (or warned?) is the first of a series. Fforde explores his/her borrowed premises of 'fact/fiction' and 'time travel' with facility and wit, though many American readers may be baffled by the relentlessly British references and names (how many Yanks know what a Bowden Cable is, for example). Some material is stretched beyond its elastic limit in terms of interest or credibility--consider airships, featured in the book, that could have been explored with far more insight and amusement but are merely tossed in without perspective or apparent information.
Flashes of brilliance and wonderful whimsy are interspersed by plodding and inconsistent use of the language and insufficient descriptive detail which would have enriched the text in a book that has been inflated to its 380-page length with wide margins and 32 lines per page. This is a pity, and might have been avoided by editing--realize, in context, that today's publishers eschew editing and expect the writer not only to be his or her own scrupulous editor and fact-checker but also the typesetter. In the case of Fforde this also gives rise, in the American edition, to confusion about words spelled differently in the UK and US, with 'theatre/theater' as a typical annoying example--make up your bloody mind, woncha? Some of the work obviously needed to be read aloud by the author (see my review of Steve Martin's SHOP GIRL for relevance) to reduce the clunker quotient.
Readers expecting divine inspiration or deep insight will be disappointed. Anyone who expects significant exploration of emotion will come away empty handed. Those who are easily amused or who think that a British author is all knowing about literature and has a corner on satirical wit will keep turning the pages, to dig up yet another analogy or manipulated historical name. Dig, dig, dig, but it never quite gells. The infuriating part about this process is that the promise is there in adbunsance but is never truly delivered. Does this, one cannot help wondering, reflect the experience and intellectual bandwidth of the Viking approval staff (Viking published the book in the US) or do both Penguin and Viking despise their readerships and settle for a lowest-common-denominator contempt for the people they expect to buy their books?
In all, this is a book closely akin to a bag of potato chips. One can't eat just one chip or read just one page, as we all know, but the over-all effect is just slightly 'lite' and hollow. In that sense it clearly matches much current popular entertainment (music, film or 'literature') but will probably sell well to readers who do not ask too much of their authors.