The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (1 November — 5 November)

Finally! I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I bought it a couple of years ago, but I’ve always been reading something else instead. A lull in my library book stream led me to pick it up, and I’m really glad I did.

If you’ve seen the movie, you pretty much know how the book goes, interruptions and all. If not…

The Princess Bride is a “classic tale of true love and high adventure” featuring the titular Buttercup, who falls in love with her farm boy, Westley. Westley leaves for America to make his fortune but his ship is taken over by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who takes no prisoners. Disconsolate, Buttercup — who also happens to be one of the most beautiful women in the world — allows herself to be engaged to the prince of Florin so long as she doesn’t have to love him.

Unfortunately, that whole not-loving thing is pretty real and the new Princess finds herself kidnapped by a Sicilian, a giant Turk, and a wizard Spanish swordsman. She is also being followed by a man in black who wants to kidnap her from her kidnappers…

The greatest part of the book is its really tongue-in-cheek feel. Goldman wrote it as an abridgement of a great Florinese novel (which, of course, it’s not) and there’s an entire chapter devoted to talking about why he loves the book and how he ended up abridging it. He also cuts in throughout the novel to talk about why he cut 15 pages here and 87 pages there. Of course, Goldman leaves in all of the “original author’s” asides, which are equally ridiculous.

I read the 25th anniversary edition, so there’s also a bit in the back about Goldman abridging the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby, and how Stephen King was going to do it but he said Goldman could abridge the first chapter, and then there’s the first chapter, but at that point I was really just done with the conceit. Part of that first chapter is really engaging, but most of it just doesn’t make any sense and I’m not sure where Goldman was going with it. Alas.

Rating: 8/10

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde (28 August − 1 September)

The premise behind this book is an alternate universe in which weird things happen regularly − time gets out of joint, extinct animals can be cloned, religious fighting is replaced by “Who was the real Shakespeare” fighting. As in this universe, the government has a lot of bureaus to control its constituents, among these SpecOps 27, the literary division.

Our protagonist, Thursday Next, is an operative in this group who gets lured into a big investigation by the fact that she’s seen the bad guy involved, Acheron Hades − few others have because he doesn’t resolve on film. He is out to make a name for himself by stealing an original manuscript to Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit as well as a machine called a Prose Portal invented by Thursday’s uncle, Mycroft. With it he can enter original manuscripts, kill a character or two, and completely change every copy of whatever story he’s gotten into.

Thursday works to rescue her uncle, restore a failed relationship, and save Jane Eyre from destruction, all while battling the forces of evil in Hades and government corruption.

I really liked this book. Fforde makes the alternate universe seem very real with little details (an ongoing Crimean War, Jehovah’s Witness-like “Baconians”) and writes entertaining characters. A couple of times, when time-travel and manuscript-revising were involved, I thought too hard about how things could actually work and lost the story a bit, but otherwise it was great. This is the first in a series of Thursday Next novels, and I will definitely be looking for the second the next time I hit the library.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2001)

Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (13 August − 17 August)

It struck me that I’d seen all of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but I’d never actually cracked open one of Wodehouse’s books. Clearly, this needed to be rectified.

If you don’t know Jeeves, he’s the butler to a bit of a ditz called Bertie Wooster. Bertie thinks he’s the brains of the operation, but it’s always Jeeves who comes to the rescue when Bertie’s plans go awry. In this novel, we have relationships being weird everywhere — Bertie’s cousin breaks off an engagement over a tiff, a friend of his can’t talk to the woman he wants to marry without bringing up newts, and Bertie’s aunt loses her husband’s money at baccarat and can’t bring herself to ask for more. Bertie, in trying to help, makes it worse, but in the end it is all resolved in a properly oojah-cum-spiff way. I loved it.

Rating: 9/10