by Jasper Fforde



376pp/$24.95/February 2004

The Well of Lost Plots

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Well of Lost Plots is a very different novel than The Eyre Affair or Lost in a Good Book, the two previous entries in the chronicles of Thursday Next, written by Jasper Fforde.  While the first book introduced Fforde’s odd characters and even stranger world, the second one expanded on it by providing Thursday Next with glimpses into the world behind books, while still rooted in Thursday’s own world.  In The Well of Lost Plots, Thursday’s world is practically left entirely behind as Fforde builds several layers of his meta-fictional for Thursday, and the reader, to discover.

Guided by Miss Havisham, from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Next, once of SpecOps, is introduced to the world of JurisFiction, which is responsible for policing the world of fiction, in which, Next learns, all the characters are merely playing their parts to some extent.  JurisFiction is responsible for ensuring that plots are correct and no ad-libbing occurs.  As with the previous novels, knowledge of literature, both classical and popular, provides the reader with a benefit of understanding many more of the offhand remarks made by Fforde in his exposition or his characters.

In the Thursday Next books as a whole, but especially in The Well of Lost Plots, Fforde has created a series of books which redefine the reader’s need to suspend his or her sense of disbelief.  Fforde tosses intriguing (if impractical) ideas around right and left and the reader can either choose to accept everything on face value, or the book won’t make any sense.  Despite the kitchen sink nature of much of the book, there is an internal consistency which is all the more remarkable given that Fforde plays with mutable rules.

One of the more interesting aspects of The Well of Lost Plots, is that it is almost entirely self contained.  Thursday Next is very much aware of her life outside of the Well of Lost Plots, but she has no direct interaction with it.  Fforde continues to reference Next's ongoing battle with Kaine and Goliath, as well as her desire to bring her husband, Landen Parke-Laine, back from oblivion, but there is little done to directly forward those plots, although it seems clear that the events and growth of characters in The Well of Lost Plots will eventually become important in the larger story arc.

While much of the book is focused on the creation of fiction, Fforde gleefully satirizes many aspects of modern life, most notably software development companies, in The Well of Lost Plots.  Integral to the story is the imminent release of UltraWordTM, which will forever alter the manner in which novels and stories are written.  Mobile phones, in the form of footnoterphones, also come in for their fair share of skewering and, at times, provide a parallel text every bit as important (if not moreso) than the primary exposition and dialogue.

On the surface, The Well of Lost Plots isn't quite as enjoyable as the two previous novels as sheer entertainment, however it presents a depth to the world of Thursday Next which, while not absent from those books, indicates that Fforde is attempting to write something more than mere entertainment.  In The Well of Lost Plots, he shows every sign of succeeding, although his ultimate success won't be certain until he allows his readers to see exactly where he is going and how he is getting there.

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