Overload of Fantastical Ideas: A Brief Review of The Woman Who Died a Lot

I grabbed The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde (2012) off the shelf at the library. I wasn't disappointed with the story, but the world itself left me unsatisfied.


Thursday Next (the main character) is not your typical heroine. In this book (I didn't read any early ones in the series because, as I said, I just grabbed it off the shelf.), she is an older woman who has dedicated her life to fighting literary crimes. She is convalescing from an attempt on her life which has left her in a great deal of pain and mobility trouble, but she still feels disappointed when she is assigned a cushy job as the chief librarian of the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat at Fatso's Drink Not Included Library instead of her exciting old job chasing bad guys.

However, her life is anything but boring. Day Players--temporary synthetic people expertly designed to look like Thursday for unknown reasons and by an unknown party--replace her frequently and download her consciousness, and her daughter Jenny doesn't exist.

Library Copy
Two catastrophes are on the way: a smiting by an angry deity and the earth's collision with an asteroid in 37 years. The super corporation Goliath intends to benefit from both and achieve their goal of complete control/world domination. Thursday Next and her family work together to thwart them.

Overload of Ideas Inadequately Explained

This is a perfectly legitimate storytelling technique, most notably employed by Lewis Carroll. The author fills "fairyland" with so many bizarre things that the reader is in a constant state of disorientation. Angry deity, MadCon (a mad scientists' convention), the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster religion (also known as "the Lobsterhood"), the disbanding of time travel when someone reached the end of time and realized that no one had ever invented the time machine, etc.

It's like having a mirror flashed in your eyes repeatedly.

In this particular story, the technique does not mask weak plot or characters, but it is a distraction. There is too much going on. Perhaps, if I had read the beginning of the series (this is book #7) and grown to know the characters and concepts over several books, my impression would have been different.

As it is, the story is full of "buzzword" concepts that tickle the nostalgic sensibilities of book lovers, such as the "Dark Reading Matter," which is like heaven for lost books, oral tales, the imaginary friends of dead children, and unicorns. Nothing is lost, and the contents of destroyed books can potentially be recovered.


Personally, I find this type of storytelling unsatisfying. I enjoy complete worlds and stories that make me feel at home in them. The Woman Who Died a Lot made me feel like I was being dragged along, even though most of the random things came together in the end.


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