Genius Literary Criticism

The Fourth BearThe scene below is taken from Jasper Fforde’s 2004 novel The Fourth Bear. Main character Jack Spratt and his wife Madeleine are attending a literary awards ceremony when one of Madeleine’s writer friends approaches them.

“Hello Marcus!”

“Madeleine, dahling!

“Jack, this is Marcus Sphincter. He’s one of the writers short-listed for the prize this year.”

“Congratulations,” said Jack, extending a hand.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you – most kind.”

“So what’s the title of this book you’ve written?”

“The terms ‘title’, ‘book’ and ‘written’ are so passe and 2004,” announced Marcus airily, using his fingers in that annoying way that people do to signify quotation marks.

“It is 2004,” pointed out Jack.

“So early 2004,” said Marcus, hastily correcting himself. “Anyone can ‘write’ a ‘book.’ To raise my chosen art form to a higher plane, I prefer to use the terms ‘designation,’ ‘codex’ and ‘composed.'”

“Okay,” said Jack, “what’s the appellative of the tome you’ve created?”

“The what?”

“Hadn’t you heard?” asked Jack, hiding a smile and using that annoying finger-quotes thing back at Marcus, “‘Codex,’ ‘composed’ and ‘designation’ are out already; they were just too, too early evening.”

“They were?” asked Marcus, genuinely concerned.

“Your book, Marcus,” interrupted Madeleine as she playfully pinched Jack on the bum. “What’s it called?”

“I call it … The Realms of The Leviathan.”

“Ah,” murmured Jack, “what’s it about, a herd of elephants?”

Marcus laughed loudly, Jack joined him, and so did Madeleine, who wasn’t going to be a bad sport.

“Elephants? Good Lord, no!” replied Marcus, adjusting his glasses. “The leviathan in my novel is the colossal and destructive force of human ambition and its ability to destroy those it loves in its futile quest for fulfillment. Seen through the eyes of a woman in London in the mid-eighties as her husband loses control of himself to own and want more, it asks the fundamental question ‘to be or to want’ – something I consider to be the ‘materialistic’ Hamlet’s soliloquy. Ha-ha-ha.”

“Ha-ha-ha” said Jack, but thinking, Clot. “Is it selling?”

“Good Lord, no!” replied Marcus in a shocked tone. “Selling more than even a few copies would render it … popular. And that would by a death knell for any serious auteur, n’est-ce pas? Ha-ha-ha.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” said Jack, but thinking, Even bigger clot.

Jasper Fforde is pure genius. God I love him.

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  • James Smythe

    Great extract, Eli – like it a lot. I’ve never read any Fforde, despite having met him (when I served him some theatre tickets – glamorous). Where would you recommend I begin?

  • Eli James

    Ooh! I’d start with Nursery Crimes, even though Thursday Next is way more popular.

    Begin with The Big Over Easy. But really any one of them is fine, James – he does backstory well, and the tongue in cheek commentary on literature and the publishing world is more than worth it.


  • srsuleski

    I read the first Thursday Next novel and I really did not care for it (I found it rather boring, to be honest). But I did get a kick out of that Jack Spratt excerpt.

  • Eli James

    *grins* You’ll do better with Nursery Crime, Sarah. I mean – who wouldn’t love finding out who murdered Humpty Dumpty, or if there was a fourth bear in the Goldilocks story? And the Gingerbreadman as a mad serial killer … pure genius, that is.

  • Stormy

    Oh. My. God. That was brilliance.

    I think I need to buy some of his books.

  • John Baker

    Thanks. That was the first thing I read today. Looks like the period between now and sundown is gonna be anticlimactic.

  • Eli James

    @Stormy – Nursery Crime! Not Thursday Next. His books are very, very fun.

    @John – Thanks for stopping by. And you’re welcomed. Nothing like a little humour to start of a day, no?