Book Review: Jasper Fforde’s The Woman Who Died a Lot

Posted November 16, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Jasper Fforde’s The Woman Who Died a Lot

The Woman Who Died a Lot

on July 12, 2012 and has 384 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Seventh in the Tuesday Next fantasy series about a secret agent-type librarian willing to take on megalithic corporations intent on ruling the world through books. Greed. Money. Power. Books.

In 2012, The Woman Who Died a Lot was nominated for the Goodreads Choice for Best Fantasy.

My Take

I really don’t recommend diving into this without having read at least a few of the earlier Thursday Nexts. (Start with The Eyre Affair — Jane Austen lovers may riot or embrace its nonsense, but y’all won’t be bored!)

The first half was bloody confusing. And it’s totally fantastical, odd, crazy, and disjointed. Don’t even try to make sense of it. However, it is well worth reading if only for the snark and send-ups Fforde enjoys making against society, books and reading, and our own expectations. It’s not until the second half that all the ends set loose in the first half start to come together. That’s not to say they all make sense in the second half, though.

I have no idea how Fforde keeps this stuff straight. Then again, it’s so convoluted, he probably doesn’t need to. This one is probably the most disjointed in the Thursday Next series. I have to wonder if Fforde used it to pull together a number of odd elements, tidying some up and starting new possibilities.

Librarians will sigh, desire, and pant for the power and budget that Thursday wields. They and authors will probably fantasize about entering the Dark Matter…I know I wanna visit.

Read this and you will learn the truth about Scooby Doo’s ending, that Shatner’s characterization of Captain Kirk is actually from a book by Ovid, where the early Daleks roost, where the lost episodes of Doctor Who are, and a whole lot more.

Getting into the Storyline

This is not a great time in Thursday’s life. She didn’t get the job offer she was hoping for. Phoebe Smalls is a major pain. Her brother Joffy is likely to die and there is only a small chance she can save him. The mindworm is roving throughout the family. And Gavin is a threat to Friday’s freedom and Tuesday’s bed.

Oh, man, there’s a Stupidity tax surplus that the government department, the SEC*, has to spend! They’re desperately trying to figure out really stupid things to spend money on. And it’s all the fault of that CommonSense party that’s in power. Heck, Thursday should bring her tax woes over here. God knows we have enough stupid ideas…

Duffy is telling Thursday about the very important budget meeting for the library and her response is:

“I’ll just turn up tomorrow morning and start having meetings…Then…I’ll hide for a bit…forget it all by evening…and rely on subordinates and assistants to deal with actually running the place.

“Thank goodness for that,” said Duffy…”I was worried you had no experience of running a large public department.”

* Stupid Events Commission. Hmmm, I wonder who Fforde is channeling…hmmm…

The Story

There are two major catastrophes looming for Swindon: Asteroid HR-6984 and the scheduled Smiting by God. A third disaster continues to loop for the Next-Parke-Laine household where each member of the family takes it in turn believing that sister/daughter Jenny is alive, but just missing.

Tuesday with a genius I.Q. of 240, has been tasked with creating a shield that will protect the earth, an Anti-Smite Defense Shield. Joffy is trying to set up talks with the Almighty about all these smitings.

Meanwhile, Friday is trying to cope with his layoff from the ChronoGuards and the switch to his future which is detailed in his Letter of Destiny. A number of people are in the same boat. Fortunately, Jimmy-G at TJ-Maxx (the Temporal prison) is starting up the Destiny Aware Support Group.

Thursday is still pining for her action-packed job with SO-27, in spite of her aching hip and all the pain patches she wears.

And Synthetic Thursdays are out there, replacing the real one.

The Characters

Detective Tuesday Next is a former SpecOps agent for SO-27, the Literary Detectives. Badly injured in One of Our Thursdays is Missing, she’s just received an offer to be the “head of the entire Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso’s-Drink Not Included Library Service” with a ginormously humongous budget. Landen Parke-Laine is her easy-going husband. Their daughter Jenny never existed, however they still have sixteen-year-old, über genius Tuesday and her brother Friday whose brilliant future as head of ChronoGuard is in serious jeopardy. So serious, that he won’t have it.

Thursday reminisces over Tuesday as a baby, “her first Erector set at two, her first long-chain polymer at four, and of learning Latin at five, so she could better understand the Principia Mathematica” and “how much the teachers said they’d learned…”

Pickwick is the family dodo, which Thursday cloned into real life. The Wing Commander, a.k.a., Wingco (he’s the fictional Wing Commander Cornelius Scampton-Tippet, a wartime RAF officer) assists Tuesday while pursuing his research into the DRM. Joffy is Tuesday’s brother and the supreme head of the Church of the Global Standard Deity; Miles Hawke is his partner, a former SpecOps Tactical Support (SO-14) agent.

Thursday’s dad is still alive. When the future was changed, the ChronoGuard had to change his future and he chose the past of a plumber with fifty years in. He has his reasons. Any estate with 80 acres or more was required to have an ornamental hermit. Thanks to Tuesday’s inventions and lab requirements, the Next-Parke-Laines’ have such an estate and Millon de Floss is their necessary hermit-to-be as well as Thursday’s ex-stalker and biographer; he still has to pass his hermiting exams.

Commander Phoebe Smalls is a younger version of Tuesday, but with a lot to learn. And she’s getting the job Thursday wanted. Still, there’s nothing like bonding over warm bodies… Bunty Fairweather is involved with the city council and a lot of committees, one of which is Swindon’s Smite Avoidance Team working closely with Goliath’s Smote Solutions. Gavin Watkins is a smarmy git with a foul mouth and lousy manners whom it is extremely pleasurable to consider killing. “Stig” Stiggins is a Neanderthal buddy of Thursday’s. Regional Commander Braxton Hicks has served a long time on the SpecOps departments in Wessex and others. Colonel Wexler heads up the SLS.

John Duffy will be Thursday’s personal assistant at the library. Before being invalided out, he was a decorated SLS operative. James Finisterre has been a backroom boy at SO-27, now he’s in charge of the antiquarian section at the Wessex Library. Conrad Spoons is the library’s chief accountant. Mrs. Hilly is a member of the Blyton Fundamentalists interested in turning back to the original Enid Blyton stories which kept women in the kitchen and the nursery.

Dr. Newton Chumley is the psychiatrist whom Thursday needs to impress in a certain direction. Mr. Chowdry is part of the Asteroid Strike Likelihood Committee with an interesting take on faith and statistics reflecting the chances of the asteroid striking earth. The Manchild pretty much lives at the Kemble Time Park where the decommissioned time machines are standing. Tim is a righteous man with even deeper layers.

Acheron Hades’ little sister is Aornis, a mnemonomorph as is the Cleaning Lady; Aornis has given Thursday a mindworm. Mother Daisy, the former Daisy Mutlar, leads the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster and has a major hate for Thursday — for stealing Landen from her at the altar. Sister Henrietta is actually Brother Henry.

Jacob Z. Krantz is a Goliath employee with an illegal stock of Synthetics he’s setting loose on Swindon. Lupton Cornball is the Goliath representative in Swindon. Jack Schitt is quite high up on the Goliath ladder, number ninety-one, and would love to take Thursday out even though he respects her. Crabbe is not quite as evil as Schitt and both are after writings by St. Zvlkx, a saint infamous for his cheapness and obsession with drink and brothels. Flossie Buxton is an old, unloved classmate of Thursday’s.

Goliath is a mega corporation working at taking over the world. THeir own Protocol 451 forbids any Goliath representative from approaching Thursday; she’s cost them too much money. The ChronoGuard policed the timeline, but when a future traveler discovered that they hadn’t invented time travel, well, they had to shut down the timeline. SpecOps, formally known as Special Operations Network, helps the police deal with situations outside normal duties. ICFs, or Imaginary Childhood Friends, wander the earth as living stories. Dark Reading Matter (DRM; hmmm, more channeling?) is a theory by the “storyologists who believe it could be a strong resource for remnants of long-lost books, forgotten oral tradition, and ideas locked in writers’ heads when they died”. The Special Library Service (SLS) are charged with protecting the nation’s literary heritage and they’ll take a bullet to protect their charges whether they’re in libraries or in transit. (They have their own TV series and recruitment is NOT a problem!)

The Cover and Title

The cover is curious. I have to wonder which Tuesday it is dangling from the twisted rope just under the book she fell through. I’m not too keen on the red-gradated fan shapes that make up the background, but I do love Fforde’s taking advantage of the closed book pages to inform us that this is A Thursday Next Novel. And considering the number of bodies that crop up along with the “depth” of the crimes, the figure cutout that goes through the book and all its pages is very appropriate.

The title is too true as Thursday is The Woman Who Died a Lot.


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