NEL, 2002, 372 pages, C$14.99 tpb, ISBN 0-340-73357-8
Jasper Fforde made quite a splash with his 2001 debut novel The Eyre Affair, a dazzling mix of humour, alternate fantasy, thriller and romance in a world where barriers between fiction and reality aren’t quite as solid as anyone would think. This assured debut quickly won him the favour of book-lovers around the world, and the least one can say about the sequel Lost in a Good Book is that it won’t disappoint any of his fans.
Fforde leads us once more into his madcap alternate reality via the narration of detective Thursday Next, a woman of uncommon abilities and unparallelled contacts. Her father is a time-traveller, her colleague is a supernatural slayer and her pet is a dodo. Given that her enemies range from criminal masterminds to the Goliath mega-corporation, it doesn’t take half a book before her husband is erased from history. Next step? Recruitment by a very special policing force and the impending end of all life as we know it.
Oh, yes, all the fun of Fforde’s first novel is to be found in Lost in a Good Book, and much much more. This sequel deals heavily with the reality/fiction transgressions that shined so brightly in the first book, playing well to his established crowd of book-loving readers. Picking up scant weeks after the events of The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book fulfils the first requirements of a good sequel by confronting its protagonist with the consequences of her earlier actions.
Once more, Next has to defy the odds against her and navigate through impossible adventures to make it alive at the end of her novel. What’s new in this volume are her added powers and responsibilities as a junior member of Jurisfiction, an organization dedicated to keeping literature free from tampering. You see, all books in history are kept at the Grand Library, most novels have lives of their own and Jurisfiction is the agency that keeps it all in order…
This particular subplot leads to one of the best scenes in the entire novel: As Next greets her compadres in literary enforcement, she recognizes them easily from classic works. But then…
“Welcome to Norland Park, Miss Next. But tell me, as I am not so conversant with contemporary fiction – what book are you from?”
“I’m not from a book.”
Upon which her interlocutor “looked startled for a moment, then smiled even more politely” [P.265]
Heh. And if you don’t think that’s mildly clever, just wait until Next uses decreasing levels of entropy to her advantage.
But one could quote favourite bits for ages without touching upon how Lost in a Good Book lives up to the expectations raised by its title: There isn’t much in this book that isn’t tons of fun, from the daily details of the protagonist’s life to neat ideas (such as communication through footnotes) and an increasingly sophisticated mythology featuring all, er, creation. Readers should rejoice, because Fforde is writing catnip for bibliomaniacs. (From the title of the third book of the series, The Well of Lost Plots, I’m guessing we’re not done exploring meta-fiction. Particularly absent is the role of the authors in this fictive cosmology, which is probably being kept in reserve for a latter instalment)
This being said, Lost in a Good Book comes with its share of dark moments, characters being eliminated and a finale that is more of a temporary respite than a conclusive victory, suggesting that this is only a middle tome of a continuing series. While few would designate this series as anything but a comedy, I suppose that every character will have to take a few hard knocks until the grand happy ending.
But don’t let this discourage you: If you enjoyed The Eyre Affair, it won’t take much to convince you to race through the rest of Thursday Next’s adventures. I myself am rationing all Fforde Ffiction to one per month, and there are regrettably only two more to go. Know simply this, though: During Lost in a Good Book, I never peeked at the page number to gauge my progress through the book. Not once.