In his latest "fiction within fiction" book, Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde offers up more literary devices, stock characters, wishy-washy Danes, and violent bouts of croquet than you can shake a stick at. Something Rotten is the fourth book in the Thursday Next series, and it appears to be the final one. Ongoing plots are wrapped up and the novel seems to have a definitive ending for once. The other books have ended their particular story, but there have always been plot threads hanging for the next book to pick up and run with. Not this time. Fforde also returns to form as this is the best book since The Eyre Affair.
Thursday Next, intrepid literary detective and now head of the Jurisfiction organization (the official police force of fiction everywhere), has a lot on her plate. Her husband, Landon, has been wiped from the timestream by the Goliath Corporation in an effort to get revenge on her. Nobody remembers him but her, even though she has a son by him (Friday, of course). Two years of being head of Jurisfiction has taken its toll, though, and she wants out. She officially resigns (though everybody just sees it as taking a leave of absence) and comes out of the fiction world and into her own real one again. Sadly, her problems are just beginning.
First her time-travelling father visits her and tells her that if the Swindon Mallets croquet team doesn't win the tournament next week, the world will end three weeks later. She has brought Hamlet with her from the fictional world just in time for a wave of anti-Danish hysteria to sweep Great Britain (not to mention the fact that Hamlet discovers he's seen as a helpless ditherer in the real world). Clones of Shakespeare are turning up dead all over the place, plus Thursday has to figure out how to smuggle ten truckloads of banned Danish literature into neutral Wales before the government can burn them. A lot of this is being caused by Yorrick Kane, the decidedly fictional (but tell him that) man who wants to become the dictator of all England (and, perhaps, eventually ruler of the world). With all of these balls in the air, can Thursday help but drop a few? If she does, everything she knows and loves will come to an end.
The last two books (Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots) have dwelt largely in the world of fiction, thus neglecting the truly interesting world that Fforde had created. Something Rotten changes all that, taking place almost completely in the real world, but with enough fictional elements and ideas to keep the book fresh. Characters from the Jurisfiction organization continue to pop up and ask for Thursday's advice. Hamlet is always an ongoing concern, especially when some of the other characters in the play rebel and create their own story, which causes Thursday to have to find a Shakespeare clone in order to write another original copy of Hamlet. Thankfully, one of the things she's investigating is the death of Shakespeare clones!
This brings me to one of the faults of the book: there are just too many coincidences. In a novel about literary devices, there are bound to be some coincidences. However, Thursday is juggling many things at one time and the resolution of some of them just seems too convenient. It would be different if there were a reason for them within the book (as there is a reason for the piano just happening to fall on the right person at the right time), but there's not. Probably the worst example of this is the Wellington clones that just happen to show up at the perfect time to take care of the Napoleon clones running about. It was just too much.
For the most part, I was able to ignore these problems with just a roll of the eyes, as the rest of the book is a delight. Fforde's trademark wit is fully evident as he parodies bad political talk-shows ("Evade the Question Time, the nation's premiere topical talk show,” where politicians come on and are awarded points for evading the question the best) and creates a full-contact version of croquet that makes it seem like American football. Even the blurbs at the beginning of each chapter are usually hilarious ("there might be something in the whole smoting thing, but we're not sure," says the spokesman for Federated Agnostics). In fact, not only is Something Rotten the best book since The Eyre Affair, it's also the most fun. I haven't laughed out loud this much in ages.
While I did find that Thursday had her problems solved a little too easily, it was still fun watching her deal with all of them. She is characterized very well in this book, from her dedication to Jurisfiction (despite having left) to her love and devotion for her eradicated husband. She gets more development here than she received in the last two books combined. Unlike even The Eyre Affair, there are actually other characters as well who are fairly well-rounded (if a bit silly at times). Hamlet comes off the best, as he's just enough like the character in the play to be recognizable, but he wants to be remembered as a man of action. It hurts him that people see him as wishy-washy and he becomes determined to change that image. His interactions with Thursday as she tries to prevent this are very amusing.
The book ends with revelation after revelation that brings the previous books into a whole new light. These almost come a bit too fast, as my head began to throb by doing double-takes, but they do make sense. Some of the long-standing questions are finally answered, and we (and Thursday) come full circle. It's a perfect place to end it, and I really hope Fforde decides to leave it. Forcing more adventures after this would just seem extraneous. Plus, he has gone out on a good note, and it would be shame to ruin that. Something Rotten isn't rotten at all. It's bloody wonderful.