Review: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

May 23, 2019

BLURB: Every Winter, the human population hibernates. During those bitterly cold four months, the nation is a snow-draped landscape of desolate loneliness, and devoid of human activity.Well, not quite. Your name is Charlie Worthing and it's your first season with the Winter Consuls, the committed but mildly unhinged group of misfits who are responsible for ensuring the hibernatory safe passage of the sleeping masses.You are investigating an outbreak of viral dreams which you dismiss as nonsense; nothing more than a quirky artefact borne of the sleeping mind.When the dreams start to kill people, it's unsettling.When you get the dreams too, it's weird.When they start to come true, you begin to doubt your sanity.But teasing truth from Winter is never easy: You have to avoid the Villains and their penchant for murder, kidnapping and stamp collecting, ensure you aren't eaten by Nightwalkers whose thirst for human flesh can only be satisfied by comfort food, and sidestep the increasingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk. But so long as you remember to wrap up warmly, you'll be fine.



I probably should have abandoned this book weeks ago - it's taken me nearly seven weeks to finish it - but the name on the cover ensured my seeing it through. This is the first Jasper Fforde book (across Thursday Next, Nursery Crime and Shades of Grey) that doesn't merit five stars from me, and really it's closer to three-and-a-half instead of four, but there were a few points that kept me glued even if the structure and the actual plot were somewhat incomprehensible.


This is a book of dichotomies - dreams and real life, personal and private, perception and truth, male and female. How someone presents themselves is not necessarily how they perceive themselves, and in Fforde's alternate, winter-struck Wales, none of this really matters. Characters are straight, queer, male, female, neutral, have multiple names, multiple identities and multiple genders, and no one really bats an eyelid because the characters are more concerned with things that are actually important like nutrition, population and survival. This is not a society that has any room for bigotry or discrimination, which elicits a very optimistic and charming facet of an otherwise desperate and dreary society. 



This story is like a drugged-up mélange of Handmaid's Tale (the breeding pools), 1984 and Brazil (bizarre bureaucracy), ASOIAF (winter is coming!) and the video game Borderlands (people running around in all-terrain vehicles shooting at each other with a variety of wacky scifi weaponry), glistening with a sticky glaze of British/Welsh sensibilities. Like I previously commented, this book is absolute fucking gibberish of the highest degree and I suspect the author's three-year creative "hiatus" was spent smoking buckets and buckets of crack while listening to Tom Jones on repeat and binge-eating Tunnock's Teacakes. 


That wasn't really a complaint however, just an observation. It's fucking nuts. In true Ffordian fashion, these characters communicate in Rogers and Hammerstein references, re-enact episodes of Bonanza, and barter with Werther's Originals and cans of Rice Pudding. I found the plot absolutely impossible to follow for the first 300 pages. I got most of the characters mixed up and I wasn't sure what Charlie was actually trying to accomplish most of the time. Still, a lot of it made me laugh, and there were a few touching moments to boot. It delves so deeply into ideas about dreams and perception, about the elasticity and suggestibility of the human mind, and the purpose of dreams themselves, that I started to dream about the book, and I think that's what this book is, really. A dream into which the reader can insert themselves - hence the 2nd person blurb (YOU ARE CHARLIE WORTHING) and the author's declining to identify the gender of the protagonist - it's the reader.



I simultaneously have very warm feelings about this (wintry) book, and never want to read it again. I hope that the author forgets this book ever happened, but at the same time, if there were a sequel I'd probably pre-order it. So I guess there's a dichotomy about whether or not I actually liked this book. Maybe I need to sleep on it.



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May 23, 2019

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