In Fforde’s world it’s 1985 in Britain and the Crimean war is still going strong. Time travel is most strictly regulated. The population seems to believe reading is as important as breathing but interestingly enough the line between literature and reality is so thin that characters wander in and out of books at will. And now, someone is kidnapping the great heros and heroines of literature, including Jane Eyre, and holding them for ransom. Enter Thursday Next, a heroine whose job as a Special Operative in literary detection has her on assignment to find out who has plucked Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel. While this premise may seem like an impossible one, Fforde handles it quite deftly and with so much wit and so many amusing literary references that anyone who loves literature will be lost in a good book almost as literally as Thursday herself. Warning: there are six books for far in this series and they become increasingly addictive. Handle with care and do not operate dangerous and heavy machinery while reading.
It has been years since I first discovered this book. I must have been in the mood for a good, old fashioned, who-dunnit mystery after filling my head with something which I probably considered at the time to be much more serious and important. However, much to my surprise, while “mysteries” do occur in the pages of the books of this series it is really the mystery of human behavior, as seen through the eyes of one of the most sage protagonists to come along in years, Precious Ramotswe, that make up the subject matter of her investigations. As the first female private investigator in Botswana, Precious takes us on a journey through both the Botswana countryside and the human mind. Her observations are always acute, sometimes heartbreaking, and well worth reading for any lover of books or student of human behavior.
“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
If ever I needed a book to remind me of the joys of reading, or why I read, or the transporting power of the written word, all of which I do not need reminding of — no, trust me, I do not, but, if I did — then I would sit down and read this powerful book front to back in a single sitting. Which, to be quite honest, is what I did anyway because I simply could not put it down. Also intriguing is Bennett’s depiction of those non-readers who fear those of us who do read and who will do almost anything in their power to stop us before we read more. All of this and, let’s be honest, is anyone funnier than Alan Bennett? We think not.
“I would have thought,” said the prime minister, “that Your Majesty was above literature.”
“Above literature?” said the Queen. “Who is above literature? You might as well say one is above humanity.”
― Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader
Nothing happens and yet so much occurs. Love. Loss. And everything in between in prose so elegantly paced it reminds you just how terribly difficult it is to write with such conviction and simplicity. Read once a year, before, during, and after your meals until prescription is finished.
“I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”