Eric Boss reviews EARLY RISER
True to his inimitable form, the author has produced a bizarre entertainment imagining things that cause the reader to wonder, “where does he get this stuff?”. In this case, this stand-alone novel posits a world in which the winters are so severe that most of the population simply goes into hibernation to avoid the stresses and dangers of the killing cold. All, that is, except a few hardy souls who overwinter in shelters trying to avoid terminal boredom and a cadre of misfits who are tasked with keeping the
sleepers safe during their long nap.
The variety of difficulties they encounter is the fodder for much of the plot. For one thing, they must bulk up before going under to avoid starvation while unconscious. The rituals surrounding this gorging and the attendant activities upon awakening are cleverly and amusingly explained with Fforde’s signature style. Since the nominal setting is Wales, many items of popular British prepared food prance across the stage: Fruity Malt Loaf and Walker’s Shortbread Fingers, for instance. For those who have trouble dropping off, reruns of Bonanza and Dynasty are run in continuous loops to overcome insomnia. The list of books recommended for this purpose include The Non-pictorial Complete History of Doorknobs, Farmall Tractor Carburettor Options of 1932 and Moby Dick. All of this will feel familiar to fans of Fforde’s Thursday Next books.
The denizens of this alternative reality are themselves notable, the nightwalkers (prematurely awakened sleepers suffering brain damage), villains (the outlaw/brigands of the place), drowzies (those who can
help put you to sleep) and other Wintervolk such as the Gronk, who harvests the unworthy, takes one of their pinkies as tribute and leaves the items of their clothing neatly folded, one inside the other. For some reason, stamp collecting is also a theme consuming the consciousness of several of these groups.
The protagonist, Charlie Worthing is a product of a sort of orphanage for children engendered by a system of institutionalized breeding to replenish the population decimated by each cold season. He becomes a Winter Consul, one of the guardians of public safety who remain awake during the dark months. He begins by investigating a rumor of a viral dream involving a seaside holiday in the Gower peninsula and a Blue Buick sedan but soon starts having the dream himself. The dizzying spiral of plot and subplot becomes more and more complex and bizarre as competing governmental agencies and the ubiquitous Wintervolk all put their oars into the doings.
It’s impossible to explain all this properly, so you will simply have to read the book. I recommend it to anyone who loves the crazy kind of thing that Fforde, Christopher Moore and Michael Chabon write. It’s great fun and a true departure from our bland everyday world.
Shelf Talker: For fans of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, this flighty expedition into a world where winter forces most of the population into hibernation while guarded by a band of misfit custodians with ulterior motives is a funfest of epic proportions.