Thursday, September 27, 2012

Metafiction and Reader Interaction: The World of Thursday Next

On one of my recent trips to the libary, I rediscoved Jasper  Fforde’s Thursday Next series. The first book, The Eyre Affair,  is set in an alternate-history England circa 1980, occurs in a world where cheese smugglers run the line between Wales and Britain,  Bacon apologists go from door to door, and the main character is a veteran of the Russian-English conflict in the Crimera.  But the story really gets going once Thursday’s uncle Mycroft opens a portal into the Bookworld…
Generally, I would recommend British authors any day for their wit, brief yet clear detail, and skill in sci-fi and fantasy. Fforde is no exception. Frequent shoutouts for stories from Kipling to Doctor Who fill the story, and the first novel revolves extensively around an alternate ending for Jane Eyre. The story involves several levels of metafiction—story that is actively aware of itself as a story.  By the sixth or seventh book, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, a fictional version of the main character goes to search for the main character and ends up rewriting her series to contain the truth of the Bookworld.  There are also frequent references to Jurisfiction, the internal law system of the Bookworld. 
Many discussions in Jurisfiction mirror real-world ideas.
“For many readers books are too much of a one-sided conduict of information, and a new form of novel that allows the reader to choose where the story goes is the way forward.
“Isn’t that the point of books?” asked Black Beauty, stampling his hoof angrily on the table and upsetting an inkwell. “The pleasure lies in the unfolding of the plots. Even if we know what must happen, how one arrives there is still entertaining.”
”(…)create a new form of book—an interactive book that begins blank except for ten or so basic characters. Then, as it is written, chapter by chapter, the readers are polled on whom they want to keep and whom they want to exclude. As soon as we know, we write the new section, and at the end of the new chapter we poll the readers again (…)we want to make books hip and appealing to the youth market. Society is moving on, and if we don’t move with it, books—and we—will vanish.”
—-First Among Sequels, a Thursday Next novel
Another example of this creeping phenomena is the existance of sites like Book By You. Clients simply fill in name, physical attributes, and minor charactertics, and then pay for the product. If that’s what people read, I’d rather they watch a well-scripted TV show with character development, such as Doctor Who. Another discussion of changes in book formats can be found here. As an author, I prefer plain, ordinary paperbacks, a reliable format that doesn’t need batteries or have breakable screens. 
As for metafiction, it can be overdone very easily, but when done well, I absolutely adore it.

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