Lost in a Good Book
Reviewed: December 27, 2006
By: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton / New English Library
372 pages, $14.99
Thursday Next lives in a version of
our world where things are just a little different. The place is recognizable
enough, but the history has taken some left and right turns. The time frame
is sort of the late 1980s, but England has been fighting the Crimean War on
and off for nearly a century, matched against a Russia which never had a revolution
and still has a Tsar. Thursday’s England is a democracy and Wales is an independent
republic. Something like the aborted German invasion of 1940 apparently took
place and was successful, but the 1,000 Year Reich is nowhere in sight.
What is there instead is the Goliath
Corporation, which seems to have its tentacles in just about every legal and
illegal operation in the nation, and is therefore often involved in whatever
case Thursday might be investigating.
The biggest difference (an author’s
dream no doubt) is that people really, really care about literature. Thursday
is an agent with the Swindon SpecOps department 27, the Literary Detectives
or LiteraTecs section, and her job is to prevent having terrible things from
happening to classic literature. For instance, if someone gets hold of a manuscript
copy of a book and changes it in any way, it can change the entire story in
every printed edition.
Another branch of SpecOps is the Chronoguard,
which Thursday’s father worked for before he became disillusioned with government
policy and turned rogue. One gets the impression that he is working to bring
Thursday’s reality into greater sync with our own, but he isn’t at all clear
about that whenever he turns up to meet with her, freezing time all around
them so they can have a brief chat.
At the end of book one, The Eyre
Affair, Thursday got married to her old flame, Landon Parke-Laine, and
is getting on with her life when book two opens, about three months later.
Goliath Corp. lost a valued agent when Thursday left him trapped in a copy
of Poe’s poem “The Raven” during the events of book one, using a device called
a Prose Portal which her uncle had invented to allow people actually to enter
fictional realities. Goliath wants their man back and so they arrange for
Landon to become a non-person by messing with the time line. Thursday is the
only person who recalls he every existed, and she has a dreadful time trying
to explain why she’s pregnant with his child.
Thursday has to solve all of this mess
somehow, and incidentally prevent the world from being turned into a giant
mound of Dream Topping, which she learns about when her father drops by to
warn her of this threat to everyone’s existence.
The solution hinges on the fact that
fictional realities are simply another type of reality. Within the fictional
world there is an organization called Jurisfiction, a police force composed
of literary characters and real people, who perform much the same function
as LiteraTecs, working between the lines of the fictions they inhabit.
Thursday learns, with the help of a
number of fictional characters, to move between books, simply by reading herself
into their worlds. This is just a more extreme version of what happens to
any accomplished reader who has managed to achieve such a degree of suspension
of disbelief as to be “lost in a good book”, as the old saying goes.
Within these “worlds” she manages to
locate the embodiment of the memory of her lost husband, foil the plots of
Goliath Corp. and, with the aid of her time travelling father, find a way
to keep the planet and everything on it from being turned into Dream Topping.
Fforde’s work reminds me somewhat of
the late Douglas Adams, who stood science fiction on its head with the five
books in his Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy (not to mention redefining the word
trilogy), as well as that of the vastly more prolific Terry Prachett, whose
Discworld fantasy series (35 volumes and counting) has done much the same
for the thud and blunder style of heroic fantasy pioneered by Robert E. Howard
in his tales of Conan.
These novels are chockfull of literary
references and characters. Chapters headings, for instance, are often quotations
from the work of Thursday’s official biographer, Millon De Floss. Miss Havisham
(from Great Expectations) is a key member of Jurisfiction. The Librarian
in the Grand Library of the fictional realm is the Cheshire Cat from Wonderland.
So far there are four books in this
series, with a fifth due out next summer.
Fforde has also started another series,
set within fairy tale fiction and featuring the adventures of Detective Inspector
Jack Spratt. I assume these are parodies of the classic British mystery in
the same way that the Thursday Next books parody the thriller.