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Lost in a Good Book
Jasper Fforde
Viking, 416 pages

Lost in a Good Book
Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde was born in Wales. He spent several years as a focus puller on big-budget Hollywood productions. In the early 90s, he began to spend much of his free time writing short stories and then novels. His first published novel was The Eyre Affair.

Jasper Fforde Website
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SF Site Review: Lost In A Good Book

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

When it comes to suspension of disbelief, some of the most outrageously fantastic stories can invite your participation with the extraordinary delight that they offer. Lost in a Good Book is like that. This story takes place in an alternate world, but it is also a mystery novel; a police procedural, in fact. The protagonist, Thursday Next, isn't a regular cop; this isn't our world. In Thursday's world time travel is common, so there is a police force which takes care of time travel-related crime. Even more different, in the her world, large numbers of people actually love reading and books. Now, this book takes place in Great Britain, and reading is more popular there than it is here, so maybe I'm misreading this a little bit. But I don't think the Shakespeare-enthusiast vote could be expected to swing an election in our world, as it is in this story.

Next is a literary detective. As we join her, she is suffering from the celebrity of her success in the case she investigated in Jasper Fforde's first book, The Eyre Affair. Thursday "improved" the climax of Jane Eyre by using a literary portal, a newly invented device which allowed her to enter the world of the novel and interact with the characters. While not dealing with publicity agents, censors and talk show hosts Next begins to investigate the discovery of a long lost play by Shakespeare, a routine job in her profession, where most events of this sort are hoaxes or mistakes.

This story boils with sinister characters, monstrous monopolistic corporations, actual monsters, kidnaping and killings, even vampires. The jokes are pretty much non-stop. It all takes place squarely in the middle of the best traditions of broad British humor. Or maybe humour. Like The Goon Show, Monty Python, stuff like that. And Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. Especially Pratchett. Literary and historical references abound, social comment and satire run amok. Fforde's style has a free-for-all, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach. Some readers who prefer more sedate, staid or stuffy story telling, or even more focused stories, may be put off. People do find different things amusing: humor is a funny thing; but most customers will feel that they have gotten their money's worth.

One of my missions as a reviewer is to jump into the middle of a series-in-progress to ascertain if it is accessible without reading all the earlier parts. So I haven't read The Eyre Affair, and I'm not sure what all goes on there, but I do know that Lost in a Good Book more than stands on its own.

One short scene in Lost in a Good Book knocked my socks off. I was in grade school when I first saw Forbidden Planet. It was on TV, the broadcast premiere, and I was in awe of the part where the mammoth interior of the Krell planet/machine is revealed: as far as you could see in every direction, mechanisms toiling away doing the mysterious work of the departed Krell civilization. When Thursday learns that she can "read" herself into a book without using the literary portal, one of her first discoveries is that the Cheshire Cat is the librarian of a huge depository for all books and manuscripts, for the use of the characters within the books themselves, especially characters who move from book to book. The description of the library, the invocation of miles and miles of shelves, story upon story (I mean levels of the building here) (but lots of stories, too), was at least as awesome as the first sight of that giant Krell machine. Any dedicated recreational reader or book collector is apt to feel the same.

This stuff about reading yourself into a book has a profound resonance for me. Now, this novel uses entering fictional worlds as a plot device, but it really happens, you know. I do this as often as I can. All recreational readers do, I think.

Sometimes when you are reading (the really good times...) the pages and the words simply disappear, and all that remains is the story playing out in your head. The characters interacting, maybe even with your ego located behind the eyes of the viewpoint character, the scenery rolls by... you are no longer aware of reading, and are only experiencing the story.

Thursday is recruited by an organization of literary characters who trouble shoot problems caused by text-hopping. The first time she attends one of their meetings, other characters keep asking her which book she is from. Next answers that she is from "the real world." (Most agents are from books, but agents from "the real world" aren't unheard of.) She might have just as well answered she was from Lost in a Good Book. Either answer is funny.

Copyright © 2003 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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