A review by Nalini Haynes
Humpty Dumpty fell off his wall and broke into hundreds of pieces. Detective Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary of the Nursery Crimes Division investigate his death while Mrs Singh pieces Humpty back together to determine cause of death.
The Big Over Easy may appear a random choice for review but someone mentioned that Jasper Fforde had included mention of albinos in this book. I’m researching representations of albinism in speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) for a thesis so I took the plunge into this comedic detective story filled with more puns than any book I’ve read since Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, a series I enjoyed in the 1980s. This century I picked up a recent addition to the series and vowed never again.
The Big Over Easy is not as full of puns and rhymes and dad jokes as Piers Anthony’s Xanth series but it’s trying very hard.
And it would be difficult to find a more convoluted plot outside of a doorstopper serious detective novel, or even within such a book.
However, for those in the mood for a comedic romp based on nursery rhymes, The Big Over Easy is probably your jam. Or your breakfast, at any rate. I imagine parents with toddlers who are in the nursery rhyme stage would probably love the adult-ifying of a children’s genre.
Unless you have albinism.
Every chapter in The Big Over Easy begins with a fake news article. Early in the book these relate to the chapter but then they become irrelevant extras shoehorned in, like the one about people with albinism campaigning against disableist vilification.
People with albinism are rarely if ever represented in fiction accurately: vision impairment is part and parcel of hypopigmentation so the paler one is, the poorer the eyesight and yet Silas from the Da Vinci Code is depicted as a hitman. Fforde’s spokesperson for people with albinism is Mr Silas.
Fforde then likens our campaign for better representation — for representation that is NOT evil and is realistic — to a campaign by Columbians and men with ponytails against being depicted as drug dealers. To this comment I have two responses: firstly, no one should be subjected to overwhelmingly negative stereotyping. Secondly, while I disagree with stereotyping, at least some Columbians actually are drug lords and smugglers; I haven’t heard of a single albino hitman to date because, y’know, VISION IMPAIRED. Dennis Hurley, a person with albinism, spoofed the Da Vinci Code with his Albino Code to demonstrate some of the problems with casting a person with albinism as a hitman.
The way people with albinism are misrepresented in fiction plays into the centuries’ long eugenics program in the USA, UK and Canada, exported to Nazi Germany in the 1930s that inspired the murder of hundreds of thousands of disabled people before starting on other people groups (Snyder & Mitchell, 2006). Under present Ayn Rand-inspired economics programs in the West, I believe we are teetering on the brink of a repetition of history. That disaster is heralded, as ever, by public persecution and murder of minorities.
If pop culture embraces diversity by ceasing to vilify minorities, by proportionally representing different people groups as good, neutral and evil, by leading the way, disaster may yet be averted. When the majority stand up for minority groups and say ‘no’, when Muslims protect Christians from murder in the Philippines, when white people support Black Lives Matter protesters, when hate crimes against people with disabilities are prosecuted as much as hate crimes against other groups (currently they aren’t: Roulstone et al, 2012), when we are all represented realistically and equitably in fiction, then we might change the direction we’re headed. When the majority stand up to leaders to protect their friends, their neighbours and diversity, then and only then will we be safe.
While media and entertainment brainwash the masses into fearing those who are different, we are headed into Trumpian darkness.
When storytellers brainwash people into believing that minorities are a threat, then those storytellers are, collectively, are just as responsible as Trump for the mess we’re in. Possibly even more responsible because Trump is inspired by pop culture and media.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Jasper Fforde is part of the problem.
In spite of this, I’m grudgingly giving The Big Over Easy 3 stars because the rest of the book is ok and will appeal to a certain audience.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette)
Roulstone, Alan, and Hannah Mason-Bish. Disability, hate crime and violence. Routledge, 2012
Snyder, Sharon L., and David T. Mitchell. Cultural locations of disability. University of Chicago Press, 2010