Lost in a Good Book
by Jasper Fforde
Review by John Berlyne
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 034082283X
Date: 18 July 2002 List Price £17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
It is acknowledged that the US does a number of things far better than we Brits do - hamburgers, theme parks and athletics for instance - but one area where we remain untouchable is us that of humorous and slightly eccentric genre writing. There is something about the very Britishness, the essence if you like, of being British that gives our writers a unique viewpoint, one, no doubt, many of them would put down to the influence of Monty Python and possibly the weather. However the roots of this very British take on the genre go back far beyond the sixties and seventies, back to the topsy-turvy stories of the Victorian fantasists - Lewis Carroll and to some extent, even Dickens himself. In the Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, David Langford adds the names of W.S. Gilbert, G.K.Chesterton, H.G.Wells, Max Beerbohm, Edward Lear and T.H. White to the list. More recently there have emerged writers who now bestride the book sales tables, Terry Pratchett and the late Douglas Adams for example - and now we can add the name of Jasper Fforde to this list of hugely impressive names.
NOTE: See our Interview with Jasper Fforde by John Berlyne.
If you never got a chance to pick up Fforde's debut novel, The Eyre Affair, when it was published last year, you would be well advised to do so. It was a massive hit over here, with the paperback reportedly reaching sales of around 50,000 and proofs and the limited number of hard covers that were produced racking up big figure sales on eBay before the book was even published in the States. When it appeared over there, it did so to huge critical acclaim, with Locus calling it "a breath of fresh air," and "one of the strongest debuts in years".
Now Fforde has published Lost in a Good Book - a direct sequel to The Eyre Affair and the latest in what looks to become a series featuring the adventures of his heroine, Thursday Next.
The novels are hard to pidgeon-hole - they are quite clearly genre, involving as they do elements of time travel and various supernatural creatures. They also qualify as detective mysteries and even as alternative histories, set as they are in a Britain (specifically in Swindon!) in a 1985 where Wales is an independent country (and unfriendly neighbour) and the Crimean War has only recently been lost. However, the appeal of Fforde's work reaches well beyond the confines of science fiction and fantasy, entering at times the realms of almost cartoonish whimsy.
Lost in a Good Book sees Thursday battling with new found fame following her adventures in The Eyre Affair. Having managed to jump into the pages of Jane Eyre, a national treasure in this alternate world, and having changed the ending (for the better in most people's opinion) she is expected by her employers, SpecOps - a hierarchical security agency that exists to police everything from literary crime (SO-27) to Transport (SO-21), to Time Crime (SO-12) - to give interviews and meet gushing admirers. An appearance on a chat show where she is heavily censored leaves Thursday with her hands tied and mouth gagged and she's none too pleased about it. Following this she finds herself the focus of some extraordinary coincidences and it soon becomes clear that someone is out to get her. Frankly it could be almost anyone - Archeron Hades (the world's third most evil man and the master criminal she bested in The Eyre Affair) representatives of the shadowy and all powerful Goliath Corporation, or even SpecOps itself. When her father (the time jumping maverick) appears to tell her that the world will be coming to an end within the next few days, Thursday has her work cut out. She retreats into the fictional world where she becomes apprentice to Miss Haversham, who as well as being the dour, jilted spectre from Great Expectations, also happens to be a demon driver and a hell of a companion to take to the autumn sales!
It's a hard plot to summarize and truth to tell is so brilliantly inventive and off-the-wall that there's not much point in trying! Suffice it to say that Fforde's world, with its dodos, migrating mammoths, lost Shakespeare plays and a heavy tax on cheese (particularly Welsh cheese) is an absolute delight. Clearly the stuff which cults are made of, there is tremendous fun to had between the pages.
Be sure to find yourself Lost in Good Book. Very highly recommended.