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Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde has created a whole new world. He has done this before for characters such as the literary detective Thursday Next and the Nursery Rhyme squad led by Chief Inspector Jack Spratt. It is a good ten years since I read my first Jasper Fforde novel, called The Forth Bear. I remember laughing out loud on a packed Norther Express bus in Auckland on my way to work. People stared at me as if I was mad, and I didn’t care because the humour was so good. Clean and clever with just the right amount of silliness.

After an amazing run of 11 books in 11 years, Fforde has only written one book since 2012. Early Riser sees him return to his brilliant best, after what he describes in the Acknowledgements as a “creative hiatus”. The thing that I like best about Fforde’s books is the mixing of normal everyday life with the weird and wonderful. Early Riser depicts a world in which humans hibernate during the bitterly cold winters. Rather than being set in a distant dystopian future, this is all contemporary, with Kitkat bars and Snickers providing useful winter fuel. Humans fatten themselves up in the autumn ahead of four months of sleep. But while the majority of people hibernate, things are kept running by a select group called the Winter Consuls, an elite police force who fight off incursions from Nightwalkers, the mythical WinterVolk or even the Gronk (who no-body believes exists).

Enter our hero, Charlie Worthing, a novice Winter Consul who ends up marooned in Sector Twelve, a remote and especially weird sector in Mid-Wales where nothing will go the way he is expecting. Fforde creates for us a whole new dictionary of words to describe the world of winter sleeping and white-outs. Winsomniacs, for example, are those that find it hard to sleep in the winter. He describes them thus:

“The remaining occupants of the lounge were winsomniacs, perhaps a dozen or so. They were sprawled rather than sitting, and oozed a sense of unexcited apathy. A pair were playing chess using lightweight pieces, several were reading books but most were simply dozing, eyes and mouths partially open, saliva dribbling down their cheeks. They languidly swivelled their eyes towards me as I walked in, then just as languidly swivelled them back and carried on with what they were doing, which was the quiet side of almost nothing.”

Charlie finds himself in an increasingly bizarre fight between good and evil, sometimes even being fought within his own dreams or those of other people. Is the corporation called HiberTech, who manufacture Morphenox to help people sleep, being honest in its dealings? Is there really a group called the Campaign of Real Sleep? Why does the legendary Gronk neatly fold and pile all the clothes of its victims? All will eventually become clear through the blizzard like conditions in Mid-Wales, where even Rick Astley survives as one of the living dead. There is humour and normality at every turn, even all the chapters are prefaced by quotes from books of knowledge that will help us understand this remote yet ever so familiar world.

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, RRP $34.99


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