The Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Review by John Berlyne
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0340835672
Date: 11 July, 2005 List Price £12.9 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
After four supremely clever and highly entertaining Thursday Next novels, I admit I was very curious as to how Jasper Fforde's unique and creative take on things might work on some other subject matter. In The Big Over Easy, it is the cliche ridden form of the old fashioned detective story that the author chooses for the Ffordian treatment and the resulting novel is a joyous and ever increasingly silly read from start to finish.
Fforde's work is neither parody nor lampoon, but he marries elements of both with his very British approach and offers the reader at least one good belly laugh on every page and often a good deal more. Fforde excels in spotting literary conventions and mischievously subverting them, always with hilarious effect, to move his characters through their absurd situations and his sense of the ridiculous as normality throughout his work has brought him a loyal and ever growing fan base.
The Big Over Easy will in no way disappoint fans of the Thursday Next novels - far from it - and not least in that in many ways it follows a very similar format. Here the protagonist is also an investigator, in this instance one Detective Sergeant Jack Spratt and the object of his investigation is not dissimilar to the kind of thing Thursday has to deal with. But whereas Fforde centres Thursday's adventures around instances concerning classic literature (in The Eyre Affair for example, she must track down an arch criminal intent on changing the famous ending of Jane Eyre for ever) in The Big Over Easy, DS Spratt is in charge of Reading's Nursery Crimes Division and he is charged with looking into the mysterious death of Humpty Dumpty, who has been found in pieces at the foot of a tall wall.
In the fictional worlds of Jasper Fforde, such an instance is not the stuff of childhood whimsy, for the particular beauty of this author's work in the creation of a setting where fiction and reality are literally one and the same. Thus, in The Big Over Easy, all the things we know about our favourite nursery rhyme characters (which is very little, if you think about it) are exploded. Dumpty, (here better known as Ovid D class nursery celebrity Humpty Styvessant Van Dumpty III) Jack learns in his investigations, was something of a rogue - a womanizer, a drinker, a corrupt businessman, and ex-con amongst many other things. His death is far from routine and as our hero uncovers the mystery, the more absurd the story becomes. But the success of Fforde's novels comes from the way he roots this absurdity in the reality of his world. For Jack Spratt, such investigations are part of his every day work ? he recently failed to successfully prosecute the three little pigs for the unlawful killing of Mr Wolf and his superiors are none too happy about it. But for all the absurdity at work in The Big Over Easy, Fforde never leads the reader into the confusion of surrealism. At the heart of this novel is a bloody good whodunit, with all the surprising twists and turns that the reader might expect from a classic Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes mystery.
The Big Over Easy is a wonderful mix of outstanding originality and fiendishly brilliant ideas balanced against Fforde's love of unashamedly corny and overused cliche. The genius comes in getting this balance just right, which Fforde manages with consummate ease.
Very highly recommended.