by Jasper Fforde



416pp/$24.95/April 2003

Lost in a Good Book

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jasper Fforde has returned to his nonsensical world of Thursday Next in Lost in a Good Book. In this second novel, the literary detective must deal with the fame she achieved in The Eyre Affair while also trying to continue her daily life as a newlywed with Landen Parke-Laine. To make her life more interesting, Next finds herself on the receiving end of vendettas from the Goliath Corporation and a mysterious woman who may be even more deadly than her nemesis from the previous novel, Acheron Hades.

Fforde incorporates so many plotlines into Lost in a Good Book that it seems impossible for him to resolve all of them in the length of the novel. In fact, he doesn’t, thereby setting up the premise for the third book in the series, Well of Lost Plots. In the meantime, the reader is given over to the enjoyment of the story Fforde does tell, whether dealing with Goliath’s quest to have Next retrieve operative Jack Schitt from the pages of “The Raven,” Next’s attempts to authenticate a newly discovered copy of Shakespeare’s missing play “Cardenio,” the eradication of her husband, her training in her ability to jump into the pages of books led by Miss Havisham, and numerous other threads. Many of these tie together, and even the ones that seemingly don’t may become more important in future volumes.

As with The Eyre Affair, the plot, while interesting, is not the primary reason for reading the book. Fforde has created a humorous world in which classical literature is popular culture. While a knowledge of the classics Fforde refers to helps, it isn’t necessary for enjoyment of the book. What is necessary is for the reader to be ready and willing to go wherever Fforde leads. Some of the authors whose works are explored in Lost in a Good Book include, but are not limited to, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, and Beatrix Potter.

Numerous cameos from other books appear, sometimes obviously, as the aforementioned Mrs. Havisham or her nemesis, the Red Queen, and sometimes not quite so obvious. Part of the fun of reading Lost in a Good Book is picking out Fforde’s numerous literary allusions, as well as wondering which seeming allusions Fforde has created from whole cloth.

Throughout the book, whether fighting yet another Supreme Evil Being, trying to stave off the end of the world, or attending her Uncle Mycroft’s retirement party, Next manages to juggle both her professional and personal life, neither of which are going as successfully as she would like or as would be expected following her success in The Eyre Affair. In fact, that very success is adding to the stress as SpecOps Public Relations person, Cordelia Flakk sees her as the perfect spokesperson and various organizations want to sue her for the changes she made to Jane Eyre.

Fforde provided readers of The Eyre Affair with several tantalizing hints about the way the links between this world and the world within books work. In Lost in a Good Book, he happily provides more detail, while still leaving enough mystery about the mechanisms to be intriguing. Similarly, Fforde provides more of an explanation of the alternative history which makes of a world in which John Kennedy proposed a gravitube rather than space missions and air travel is conducted via air ship instead of airplane. The historical aspects don’t necessarily add up, but as with the literary background, it doesn’t rally matter.

It is tempting to compare the Thursday Next books by Fforde to the Dirk Gently novels by the late Douglas Adams, but the humorous base of the two series is very different, even in the face of superficial similarities. Like Gently, Next ties seemingly unrelated clues together, however she remains more focused on both her job and her life than Adams’s detective ever was. Furthermore, the multiple plotting of Lost in a Good Book is clearly more planned that the seemingly haphazard events of a Dirk Gently book.

Lost in a Good Book continues the strange story Fforde began in his debut novel in a manner which is sure to garner him more fans, and make those who have already been lucky enough to discover this author clamor for more. As with the first novel, those who try to examine what Fforde is doing with his world are in for a disappointment, but those who accept what they are served will find themselves enthralled by Fforde’s vision.

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