Thursday has a pet dodo called Pickwick, left over from the craze for restoring extinct species. Her younger brother, Joffy, is a clergyman who has raised church attendance by turning his vestry into a casino and having greasy-pole dancing on Tuesdays. In similar respects, the novel is a satire on the state of society circa 1985 with global capitalism entering its ascendancy. The English setting is a dystopia, and one has to say England rather than Britain because the border to Wales was closed in 1965 and that country now seems to be run along lines that smack of the old Soviet Union.
Back on the English side of the border, events over the past 130 years did not occur as the reader remembers them. There was, for example, a German occupation in or following World War II. Afterwards, the country was reconstructed largely through the good offices of the Goliath Corporation, which since has become a transnational of tyrannical proportions competing with the power of the state. In the story Goliath is represented by the sinister Jack Schitt.
Central to the novel's element of alternate history, the Crimean War is still going on with the English placing their latest hope for a decisive victory in Goliath's new plasma rifle, called the Stonk. Thursday is a military veteran of the war, having been a corporal driver of an armored personnel carrier. She participated in a notorious military debacle much resembling the charge of the Light Brigade, and her elder brother Anton, a signals captain, lost his life there after ‹ perhaps ‹ committing a serious tactical error. Thursday's lover at the time (strictly against orders in light of their differing ranks) was a lieutenant and close friend of Anton, Landen Parke-Laine.
Nowadays, Thursday's occupation is that of LiteraTec, working on literary and art thefts, copyright infringements and so on. Her government department is SpecOps-27, though she also is accredited to represent SpecOps-5, a more highly-classified shop. The acronyms are reminiscent of MI-5, and so on, the joke being ‹ it is the novel's principal conceit ‹ that this is an England in which people are crazy about literature, turning the real-life cultural situation upside down.
So many men have adopted the name John Milton that they have to be assigned numbers to tell them apart. One theater plays "Richard III" every Friday night with the cast selected from the audience. The old question about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays is an intense topic of debate with the populace taking sides over the usual arguments (Bacon, Oxford, Marlowe).