WC can only handle a limited amount of Jasper Fforde’s writing at a time, but there is no question the man has a twisted kind of genius. Take this conversation among the grammar police from The Well of Lost Plots:
“Good. Item seven. The had had and that that problem. Lady Cavendish, weren’t you working on this?’
Lady Cavendish stood up and gathered her thoughts. ‘Indeed. The uses of had had and that that have to be strictly controlled; they can interrupt the imaginotransference quite dramatically, causing readers to go back over the sentence in confusion, something we try to avoid.’
‘It’s mostly an unlicensed-usage problem. At the last count David Copperfield alone had had had had sixty three times, all but ten unapproved. Pilgrim’s Progress may also be a problem due to its had had/that that ratio.’
‘So what’s the problem in Progress?’
‘That that had that that ten times but had had had had only thrice. Increased had had usage had had to be overlooked, but not if the number exceeds that that that usage.’
‘Hmm,’ said the Bellman, ‘I thought had had had had TGC’s approval for use in Dickens? What’s the problem?’
‘Take the first had had and that that in the book by way of example,’ said Lady Cavendish. ‘You would have thought that that first had had had had good occasion to be seen as had, had you not? Had had had approval but had had had not; equally it is true to say that that that that had had approval but that that other that that had not.’
‘So the problem with that other that that was that…?’
‘That that other-other that that had had approval.’
‘Okay’ said the Bellman, whose head was in danger of falling apart like a chocolate orange, ‘let me get this straight: David Copperfield, unlike Pilgrim’s Progress, had had had, had had had had. Had hadhad had TGC’s approval?’
There was a very long pause. ‘Right,’ said the Bellman with a sigh, ‘that’s it for the moment. I’ll be giving out assignments in ten minutes. Session’s over – and let’s be careful out there.”
It’s worth the time and effort to work your way through the quote (reading it aloud helps). Because, incredibly, it makes perfect sense at every point. Although at some of those points there is danger that, like the Bellman, your brain will be in danger of falling apart like a chocolate orange.
The Thursday Next books are certainly among the most unusual fantasy novels WC has read. Not for everyone’s taste, but if you enjoy word play and gentle mocking of classic literature, Fforde’s your writer.