Unquantifiable Fiction: Jasper Fforde comes to Ann Arbor Borders
The author stands in front of a crowd of seventy-odd people. And they are odd, certainly—they are fans of a man whose books are alternately thrilling, funny, smart, and impossible to describe.
“I have developed a term for it,” he says, his hand running through his graying hair. “The Jasper Fforde role-playing game. Here’s how it’s played: when you say to someone that The Eyre Affairis a marvelous and wonderful book,” the audience laughs, “the person will inevitably respond, ‘what is it about?’ And now you’re playing the Jasper Fforde role-playing game.” He goes on to describe the plot of his Thursday Next series—a modern-day adventure where the heroine has the ability to jump into books and solve crimes while interacting with fictional characters—and imagines the expression on the person’s face growing evermore confused.
His latest book, Shades of Grey, takes place in a dystopian future where people are born with the ability to see only one color. Which color depends on your place in society—purple is the aristocracy, red for middle class, etc—and synthetic color is produced and sold for those who can afford it to impress the neighbors.
In person, Jasper Fforde (pronounced “Ford”) is warm and charming. He takes the time to answer all the audience’s questions, speaks to all excited fans (or Ffans, according to his website) with no hint of a rush, and patiently signs as many of his back catalogue of books as they care to have brought with them. The serious tone of his British accent works in concert with his self-deprecating humor; he readily admits that key devices in his book—city-wide dress codes and mutant swans—are “all a bit silly, really.”
And that’s just why we love him.
Sarah Smallwood is a freelance writer living and working in Ann Arbor. She is currently rewriting her first novel, keeps a daily blog at The Other Shoe and hosts a podcast at Stuff with Things. She can be reached at heybeedoo at gmail dot com.