Jasper Fforde The Well of Lost Plots Reviewed by Rick Kleffel

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The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde

Hodder & Stougton

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-670-03289-1

Publication Date: 07-01-2003

368 Pages; £18.99


The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde

Viking / Penguin Putnam

US hardcover First

ISBN 0-670-03289-1

Publication Date: 02-19-2004

381 Pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: 05-23-2004

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004



Science Fiction, Mystery, General Fiction

02-05-02, 06-24-02, 06-28-02, 12-06-02, 01-07-03, 02-25-03, 04-30-03


Literature can be fun. When the pages have passed and the characters have a chance to relax and unwind, even the stodgiest, most uptight players have a lighter side and a sense of humor. And while it's being fun -- really fun -- literature need not lose its higher purpose. In fact, the best and most effective literature -- and we're talking about brows so high that they reach to the sky -- is really that which is the most enjoyable. Knee-slapping humor and mind-boggling conceptualization are not of necessity mutually exclusive. Humor is very difficult to pull off, however, and pairing that humor with erudite thoughts on the intellectual process of reading itself is not a job for the faint of heart.

Luckily, Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next is hardly faint of heart or anything else. 'The Well of Lost Plots', Fforde's third book in the series, digs deep into the process of reading itself. But it does so while delivering a barrage of literary in-jokes, characters new and old that readers will come to love if they don't already, and a complicated intellectual plot that stitches together elements of cyberpunk SF, Victorian fantasy and literary satire in a seamless and entertaining story.

As 'The Well of Lost Plots' begins, Thursday Next is on a sort of maternity leave. She's been hired by the Jurisfiction department to help police the goings-on in works of literature. But as she's now pregnant, she's sent to spend her time in an unpublished police procedural, playing the bit part of a policewoman and spending the balance of her days on a flying boat. But there's something big afoot in the BookWorld. They're contemplating an upgrade to a new Book Operating System, UltraWord. Anyone who has ever tried to upgrade their computer -- or been in the vicinity of someone who has -- knows that this is not a happy time.

Readers should be warned that this is the third book in a series, and though a helpful synopsis of what's come before precedes the novel, there's no doubt that they should be read in order; first 'The Eyre Affair' and next 'Lost in a Good Book'. Having read those two entirely enjoyable tomes, readers might be excused for thinking that Fforde is headed for a ffall; how could he keep improving when he's writing to such a specific and odd idiom? But Fforde once again ups the ante, and brings in a work that is hilariously funny and yet quite inventive and thoughtful. This book is every bit as good as those that preceded it. It doesn't repeat the riffs of the predecessors. Fforde has a number of new tricks up his sleeve.

'The Well of Lost Plots' succeeds in large part because beyond being quite funny, having a nicely turned mystery plot to keep things moving forward, and extending and creating characters we love, it's about something really interesting to most readers. 'The Well of Lost Plots' is about nothing less than the process of reading and writing. But given that it's a novel about reading and writing, it has a number of undeniably powerful cinematic moments that speak to the experience of reading in purely visual fashion. Fforde manages this by creating a science fictional underpinning to the process of reading.

In this novel, Fforde cleverly uses cyberpunk ideas and Victorian technologies to creating a huge, creakingly enjoyable analog of the intellectual process of reading and writing. It's a daring, daunting task but Fforde is fully up to the challenge. From the Storycode Engines to the Well of Lost Plots itself, this novel is chock full of fascinating and very funny insights into the processes of both reading and writing. Fforde manages a really stunning achievement in this novel. He is simultaneously hilariously funny and deeply insightful as to the intellectual process of reading. I'm not sure how much has been written about the psychology and physiology of reading, but 'The Well of Lost Plots' speaks, uh, volumes about how we read, why we read, and how writers write and why they write. This is a fully blown, very detailed science-fictional and fantastic treatise on the nature of reading. When you're not thinking you'll be laughing; and more often than not, both at once.

But Fforde has not abandoned the mystery plots that drive his other novels, and the mystery here is equally enjoyable. To my mind, Thursday does seem a bit active for a pregnant mother, but that's easily brushed aside in the whirlwind of plot and character complications of this book. Not only do you get the mystery that plays out across the novel itself, but you also get the mystery within the police procedural that Thursday Next comes to call home. Both levels are quite different and quite enjoyable.

As I came to this novel late in the game, I was able to read the American version, which includes another chapter tacked on the end. I have to admit I was quite worried that this addition would spoil the flow of the novel by adding an unnecessary tail, but that's not the case. There are still unique aspects of each edition, American and English. I can't imagine anyone who reads and enjoys this book would not want to own both. By now it's going to be a bit pricey, but it's well worth it. Fforde's novels now include several pages of quaint, quirky illustrated advertisements. The UK edition has one that the US version lacks. The UK edition also has a line drawing B&W frontispiece illustration that the US version lacks. The US version on the other hand, has a full color plate that the UK version lacks, and that additional chapter. 'The Well of Lost Plots' is a truly astounding book on any number of levels. It's funny, fiercely but unpretentiously intellectual and filled with lovable characters. Fforde puts them all together seamlessly. He clearly has a magnificent Storycode engine in his basement.