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Lost in a Good Book

Jasper Fforde

Hodder & Stoughton

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 0-340-73357-8

Publication Date: 07-18-2002

370 Pages; £6.00 (£18.00 HC)

Date Reviewed: 06-25-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002

Hardcover Edition

Paperback Edition



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

If death is easy and comedy is hard, then Jasper Fforde must be one of the most fearless writers on the planet. Last year's 'The Eyre Affair' was a manic concoction of literary satire, lowbrow humor, mystery, science fiction and speculation that somehow managed to hang together as perfectly as the lion and the lamb in 'The Peaceable Kingdom'. It was thought provoking, literate and laugh-out-loud funny, often simultaneously. 'Lost in a Good Book Book', the further adventures of Thursday Next, ups the ante on every level and succeeds again and again. It's rather astonishing that Fforde can not only keep up his high-wire act, he can string the wire across vast new canyons he conjures up in a few words, then set forth with all the confidence of -- Thursday Next. While this novel can be read without having read the first one, you'd be insane to do so. Of course, insanity gets regular mention in this novel, so you'd be in good company.

'Lost in a Good Book' starts as Thursday Next, the literary detective from 'The Eyre Affair', tries to cope with her growing fame and a new marriage. The fame she could live without, but the marriage seems to have taken rather nicely. Of course it's only a matter of time (itself quite important in this novel) before Thursday is thrown into her next case. Her literary 1985 is in excellent shape. It's still not the world we live in, but for most readers it's the kind of world we would love to live in -- a world where books are all-important to everyone, not just the few of us who read them.

Fforde has shifted his focus a bit in this novel. He has literally retired some of the gadgetry from 'The Eyre Affair' and increased the number of literary adventures. It's a tribute to his consummate skill that Fforde can create adventures within the current literary canon, managing to make them funny and enjoyable while showing an astounding insider's knowledge of literature (and including a dedication to his assistants). From Kafka to Austen to Dickens to Beatrix Potter, Fforde materializes the joy of reading in a novel about reading for the reader. There are so many layers of reward given to readers of this novel, that at times it's almost overwhelming. It's never pretentious, never overbearing. No jokes fall flat. You can feel Fforde's enthusiasm for the act of reading and writing.

That same enthusiasm doesn't extend to publicity tours, however, and he has a deft hand when 'taking the piss out' of signing tours and the process of publicity. A large part of 'Lost in a Good Book' is satire. Like a great standup comic, Fforde has an impeccable sense of timing, and his silly dialogue is often quotable. The one problem that readers will have with this book is that they will be constantly tempted to read parts aloud to those in their general vicinity. Refrain from doing so, no matter how hard it may be. Let the uninitiated enjoy their time with Thursday Next.

One of the more interesting aspects of 'The Eyre Affair' was that time travel, so important, so world-changing was a sideline detail that never had much impact on the literary journeys of the heroine. This time around, Thursday's father and the Chronoguard play a much larger part in the proceedings. Fforde's sense of the absurd, honed to a razor-keen edge by his literary DJ work, is well deployed in his plotting, un-plotting and re-plotting of timelines. 'Lost in a Good Book' also has a rather nicely done romantic aspect that is perhaps the greatest balancing act since Rob and Laura Petrie set the dinner table. Managing to write romance that appeals to both sexes is something that armies of writers have tried and failed. Their corpses litter the shelves of used bookstores. Fforde pulls it off as if it were a picnic. Of course, in Fforde's world, picnics can be hazardous.

'Lost in a Good Book' does all the things sequels usually don't do. It emphasizes the author's strengths while breaking new ground. It keeps the author's creation fresh and funny and entirely new. It manages to be supremely silly and thoughtfully serious with the same smile. If Jane Austen wrote Austin Powers, we could only hope that it would be this good.