Monday, May 17, 2004

Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel ~ Jasper Fforde

"You have brought shame upon your profession, Herr H. You are under arrest!"
"On what charge?" replied Hopkins arrogantly.
"I am not authorized to tell you," said the Magistrate triumphantly. "Proceedings have been started and you will be informed in due course."
"But this is preposterous!" shouted Hopkins as he was dragged away.
"No," replied the Magistrate, "this is Kafka." (198)

And this is Jasper Fforde. This book shouldn't be called a "novel", it should be called A (Most Likely Chemically Induced) Literary Delirium. Lost in a Good Book picks up right where The Eyre Affair left off and rarely slackens it frenetic pace. Our embattled heroine, Thursday Next, finds out she's pregnant with a child that may or may not be her husband's, since he quite suddenly no longer exists (he's been eradicated by an evil mega-corporation with aspirations of global domination, the aptly named Goliath Co.), realizes that someone is controlling the force of entropy in order to kill her via highly bizarre coincidences, moonlights as a demon-slayer, discovers a long-lost play by Shakespeare, bookjumps through great literature as the apprentice of Miss Havisham (Dickens character and Jurisfiction agent), and is interrogated by the Magistrate in Kafka's The Trial (luckily, she's read the whole thing; I only made it through the first 100 pages). In the meantime her time-traveling father (also eradicated) informs her that the Armageddon will occur in a few weeks when the whole of creation will turn into a giant blob of pink goo. Having ended the 150 year conflict of the Crimean War, rescued Jane Eyre (improving the book in the process), and defeated the third most evil person in the world in the previous novel, this is just another day on the job for Thursday.
Fforde's world is entirely populated by colorful bibliomaniacs and is full of whimsy and classic understated British humor. "It didn't look like the world was about to end in twenty-six minutes, but then I don't suppose it ever does." Thursday's grandmother is cursed with immortality until she reads the ten most boring classics ever; Miss Havisham turns out to be a speed demon behind the wheel, and Fforde describes the Jabberwock as a "frightfully nice fellow--good at fly-fishing and plays the bongos." It's pure delight, a dizzying joy-ride, kind of reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Everyone in this book is quite mad.
There were a few (relatively minor) disappointments however. Though Fforde fairly dazzles you literary knowledge and references, when Thursday jumps into Sense and Sensibility, he describes Marianne as wearing Victorian dress, which flabbergasted me. Thursday's interaction with literary characters is a bit inconsistent--the minor ones (like Fanny Dashwood) are presented as something like actors playing bit parts. But the whole point is that characters like the Red Queen or the Cheshire Cat (well, he's the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat now; they moved the county boundaries) in some sense really do exist, they're not play-acted. Still, these are pretty easily glossed over. The only real flaw in the book is Thursday's husband, Landen Parke-Laine, who is inexplicably colorless and boring (and what a crappy name, though apparently it's supposed to be a reference to the British version of Monopoly). His romance with Thursday falls horribly flat; I don't think Fforde feels very confident in that genre. Hopefully he'll get more interesting in the next book. After all, I have to find out what happens next: Landen's still eradicated, and Thursday's on the run from Goliath, carrying her pregnancy to term while living in an unpublished book stored in the depths of the Well of Lost Plots...

(I love the spell-check on this thing; it thinks "Kafka's" is incorrect and suggests I replace it with "Kafkaesque". How...Kafkaesque.)


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