The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

I have recently finished reading The Fourth Bear, the latest Jasper Fforde novel and the second in the Nursery Crime series. While I don’t find that the Nursery Crime quite live up to the imaginitive possibilities latent in the Thursday Next novels, they’re still quite inventive and do a fantastic job of blending reality and the realms of literature.

I thought this second installment actually better than the first; it took me quite a while to get interested in The Big Over Easy. I think the thread of the character of the Gingerbreadman as psychotic serial killer (he has a much more prominent role in TFB) gave it some continuity; I think my perception was that there were just too many different things going on in TBOE. Or perhaps I have a subconscious preoccupation with death (see my interest in Death as an anthropomorphic personification in the Terry Pratchett novels) that seeks every possible means to show itself.

The best thing about Fforde’s novels are the highly creative allusions to varying works of literature. I particularly enjoyed Dorian Gray as a used-car salesman who sold Inspector Jack Spratt (the head of Nursery Crime) an Austin Allegra with a painting of the car in the trunk. In TFB, Fforde begins to branch out from Mother Goose rhymes and brings in characters from fables, mythology, and even includes Punch and Judy from the commedia dell’arte, which gives him the freedom to stretch out in new and unexpected directions.

Fforde also demonstrates his creativity with the introductory paragraph to each chapter. In TFB, they are excerpts from The Bumper Book of Berkshire Records, which introduces the theme or subject of each chapter in a fresh, unique, and surprising way. It is an idea developed in the Thursday Next books and adds a fantastic dimension and incredible nuance to the thread of the novels.

So Fforde’s next book returns to the Thursday Next Chronicles in The War of the Words, to be released in August 2007. I am certainly looking forward to it . . . .

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