Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde is the next adventure in the saga of Thursday Next, intrepid literary detective. Fforde takes the reader on another exploration of great literature, making it accessible even to readers who havenít read many of those classic works. Itís a fast-paced romp that leaves one smiling and intrigued at the same time.
Literary detective Thursday Next, fresh off of her defeat of Acheron Hades (along with providing a much better ending to Jane Eyre), is riding the publicity gravy train -- or is that having it steamroll over her? Sheís not exactly happy about all of this, especially when the sinister Goliath Corporation (which pretty much controls everything) wonít let her talk about what really happened. But thereís more going on than that. Somebody is trying to kill her by the use of a string of deadly coincidences. A new Shakespeare play, long thought lost, has been discovered. And thereís an election coming as well. Fiction and reality intertwine as Thursday fights desperately to rescue her new husband. Oh, and the world is going to end Thursday afternoon, making this all pretty moot.
Fforde takes the world he created in The Eyre Affair and adds to it. In fact, he creates an entire fictional world beneath the "reality" that Thursday lives in. Characters from literature can travel to the real world, or to other books. An entire infrastructure of literary characters is charged with defending literature against evil-doers. The Jurisfiction organization, centered in the Great Library where every book (even books that only potentially existed) is housed, fights against everything from vicious creatures that eat vocabulary to Bowdlerisers, who travel through fiction trying to eliminate obscenity and profanity from it. In her travels, Thursday becomes the apprentice to Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, a master book-jumper. Once again, I have to credit Ffordeís imagination. There are so many cool concepts in this book that I wonít give you any more. It would spoil some of the fun.
Also like the first book, this is a triumph of prose and imagery over character, as most of the characters donít have a lot of depth to them. They are mostly part of the joke or part of the scenery. Thursday is one exception to this, and Miss Havisham is the other. Havisham is a wonderful character, taking what Dickens created running with it. Itís interesting to see Havisham interacting with Pip and Estella as part of the book; when the sceneswitches to a new chapter and away from her, she becomes even more animated. These characters know that they are characters in a book: they speak their lines and do their bit, then go off to live their own life. Every chapter adds more to Ffordeís world.
One way in which Lost in a Good Book differs from The Eyre Affair, however, is that Fforde doesnít concentrate as much on the alternate reality in which Thursday lives. We get an update on how things are going (the Crimean War peace talks, for one thing), but for the most part, everything takes place either in the books themselves, or in the real world but with lots of literary characters bumbling about. Havisham is a hoot when she gets behind the wheel of a car. If you can imagine an 18th-century spinster with a lead foot, you will get the picture. I constantly found myself marveling at what Fforde was producing, and didnít notice that the characters were basically plot devices.
Once again, the writing is wonderful. Fforde's smooth style feels almost literary. Part of that is helped by the other fictional characters being around, but a lot of it is the prose itself. The plot is interesting and there are some godawful puns. Some of the events in the novel seem to come out of left field, but everything ultimately has a good reason for happening, which is nice.
I greatly enjoyed this novel, though not quite as much as the first. Iím not sure why that is, because it seems just as good as the first one. Maybe I would have liked a little more real-world action. In the first book, I reveled in the scenes like the Rocky Horror Picture Show-style rendition of "Richard III." Those sorts of details are missing in this one (though the beginning, when Thursday goes on the talk show, is a complete scream). There are a couple of seemingly useless items; thereís no reason that I can see for the mammoths to be around, other than as interesting scenery. In a book thatís full of imagery, thatís not usually a bad thing, but this time it seemed like they would have a purpose, and then they didnít.
Fforde has shown, yet again, that he is a master at this sort of thing. He uses wonderful language, interesting images, and a great plot. Donít pick up this book for the wonderful characters, though. Fforde concentrates more on making the characters do interesting things than in actually making them interesting themselves. You also donít have to be afraid of not having read classic fiction and thus not being able to understand the book. While Iím sure it would be enhanced if you are familiar with it, itís not a necessity to get most of the jokes. All in all, I really felt like I was Lost in a Good Book.