Following the adventures of literary detective Thursday Next as she enters novels and plays, interacts with characters and alters plots is a bit like experiencing a wild night on the town in reverse: The experience begins as a head-banging hangover, becomes a wild rush of outrageous notions and silly jokes and leaves you feeling pleasantly tipsy. How else to describe a story in which dodo birds return from extinction, a croquet match decides the world's fate and Hamlet materializes in modern Swindon, England, asking, "To espresso or to latte..."?
The fourth installment in Fforde's fantasy/mystery series, Something Rotten requires not just suspending disbelief but destroying it: As one of Next's colleagues tells her, "I think you'll find, old girl, that reality is much overrated." In addition to weeding out Shakespeare clones, avoiding assassins and reconnecting with her "eradicated" husband, Next must destroy her nemesis, Goliath, a many-tentacled corporation whose nefarious activities include marketing baby-seal burgers and penguin snacks.
Fforde's Britishisms and flights of fancy may prove burdensome to some: There's an abundance of what the author calls "time foolery," with appearances by the Minotaur, Beowulf and even Mrs. Tiggy-winkle (a bit twee, that). But sticking with this oddball novel is rewarding, and readers who share Fforde's love of literature and surreal sense of humor will enjoy this free fall through absurdity.