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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