The Long View: Something Rotten


To start the New Year off, let’s jump into a book review by John J. Reilly of a series I am entirely unfamiliar with!

Something Rotten: A Novel
By Jasper Fforde
Viking, 2004
385 Pages, US$24.95
ISBN 0-670-03359-6

A Review in Dialogue
By John J. Reilly


NURSE: “Doctor, he's starting to come out of it.”

DOCTOR: “Thank you, Nurse Dreadful. Wake up, Mr. Lector! How many did you take?”

PATIENT: “Hunh? How many what did I take? I deny everything. Get me a lawyer!”

DOCTOR: “We have to know how many Thursday Next novels you've read.”

PATIENT: “What makes you think I've been reading Thursday Next novels?”

DOCTOR: “You overdosed on Literary Conceit. We just pumped four liters of Running Gags out of your stomach. The swelling of your Pun Glands alone could prove fatal.”

PATIENT: “Just one, doctor. It was an accident: someone slipped it to me in a pile of used books...”

NURSE: “If he's been reading them since The Eyre Affair, doctor, we might as well just send him to the Obituary wing right now.”

PATIENT: “No, please! I've read only Something Rotten. I can beat this thing. I swear!”

DOCTOR: “It could be tough. We may have to kill off your literary sense entirely with weekly doses of Gender Analysis. First, though, we have to gauge the overload to the High Concept region of your brain. Can you describe the book?”

PATIENT: “Just snatches, doctor. I remember the Cheshire Cat's surprise that an 'alligator' is not someone who makes an allegation. And I remember how wrong I was for thinking that Uncle Mycroft's Ovinator was a machine for processing eggs.”

DOCTOR: “Yes, it may never be safe for you to open an etymological dictionary again. But can you remember anything about the book's premise?”

PATIENT: “It hurts my head!”

NURSE: “If we can get him to Obituaries now, doctor, we can leave the paperwork to the next shift.”

PATIENT: “The premise is that of all the Thursday Next novels. There is a technology called the Prose Portal that lets people travel through fiction like they travel through time in other stories, except that they also travel in time in these books. Thursday Next is the name of an agent for a sort of police force called 'Jurisfiction,' which is dedicated to keeping fiction stable.”

DOCTOR: “What exactly are they guarding against?”

PATIENT: “Left to themselves, the genres will fade into each other. H.G. Wells's Martians might invade Victorian novels, for instance, or the characters in one story might try to merge it with another story. 'King Lear' was originally two separate plays: 'The Daughters of Lear' and 'The Sons of Gloucester.' That merger was stable, so Jurisfiction left well enough alone; and once it was done, it was how literature had always been, as far as anyone could remember. One of the subplots in Something Rotten is about preventing a similar merger called 'The Merry Wives of Ellsinore.' Hamlet has to be taken into the real world for his own protection.”

DOCTOR: “Is this real world like our real world?”

PATIENT: “At rare points. It's always 1988. England was occupied during the Second World War. There are zeppelins rather than jets. Wales is an independent socialist republic. An aging vaudevillian and former freedom-fighter named George Formby is President of England. He is the only thing that prevents Chancellor Yorrick Kaine, a minor character who escaped from a bad romance novel, from becoming dictator. To that end, Kaine foments hatred against Denmark. It ties into the Hamlet business, you see.”

DOCTOR: “And Thursday Next is part of the effort to frustrate Chancellor Kaine?”

PATIENT: “Yes, if she can avoid being killed by an assassin called the Windowmaker.”

DOCTOR: “Could you say that again?”

PATIENT: “The Windowmaker. Doctor, the textual resonance in my ears is getting louder and louder!.”

DOCTOR: “Just stay conscious and you'll pull through. Do you remember anything about Uncle Mycroft's Memory Erasure Machine?”

PATIENT: “I do and I don't. All the details run together: the World Croquet Championship, the home cloning kits, the dodos and the Neanderthals. I seem to remember that Hamlet becomes an alpha dodo before he returns to the play. Doctor, do we have to keep going over this? I'm developing a rictus again!”

DOCTOR: “You should be fine, Mr. Lector, provided you stay on a low-irony diet for the next few weeks. No reruns of The Simpsons; no Marx Brothers movies. Nothing for you but Business Week and books on natural history; maybe some public affairs programs, but not from FOX! You had a close call, Mr. Lector: the least witticism could still push you over the edge. Nurse Dreadful, take this man to the Noam Chomsky Ward.”

The nurse bent over the gurney to push it into the hall, and Mr. Lector glanced at her uniform's blouse. His eyes widened. His body convulsed and arched like a tortured metaphor. Then he fell back. The man was dead.

On the nurse's blouse was a small, black nametag, incised with white lettering. Her first name was PENNY.

The reviewer takes no responsibility for the effects of Thursday Next books on the emotional or physical well-being of readers. Any complaints should be directed to the Toast Marketing Board. That's an inside joke. Another one.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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