Sunday, 30 June 2013

Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Forgive me if this review is a little hard to follow. I am just wrapping up my first exploration of the mind of Haruki Murakami. And for those of you familiar with his work, you are hopefully equipped to confirm that his books exercise a strange domination over everything. So attempting to recall the details of Lost in a Good Book, which I finished a few days before starting Kafka on the Shore, may be slightly tough. Fortunately, Jasper Fforde's second offering in his Thursday Next series is a little easier on the brain. It was for this very reason that I decided to line it up as an excellent post-exam read. Be prepared to leave reality behind!

"Landen Parke-Laine's eradication was the best I'd seen since Veronica Golightly's. They plucked him out and left everything else exactly as it was. Not a crude hatchet job like Churchill or Victor Borge - we got those sorted out eventually. What I never figured out was how they took him out and left [Thursday's] memories of him completely intact. Agreed, there would be no point to the eradication without her knowing what she had missed, but it still intrigued me over four centuries later. Eradication was never an exact art."

Lost in a Good Book picks up the story of literary detective and heroine Thursday Next, from where The Eyre Affair (read my review here) left off. Now married to Landen Parke-Laine and enjoying the fame associated with her spectacular defeat of the villain Acheron Hades, it seems that Thursday is set for a life of relative stability and happiness. But shortly after discovering that she is pregnant, she learns that her husband has been 'eradicated' by the nefarious Goliath Corporation. In an effort to retrieve one of their operatives, Jack Schitt, from his incarceration in Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven, Goliath have removed Landen Parke-Laine from existence, with only Thursday's memories of him intact. By using this as leverage, Goliath force Thursday to find a way of retrieving Schitt from the infamous poem. Recalling her mysterious trip into Jane Eyre as a small girl, Thursday realises an ability to read herself into books and becomes apprenticed to Miss Havisham of Great Expectations - a member of the book security network, Jurisfiction. And so the chase begins, with Thursday determined to find a route into The Raven in order to secure Schitt and guarantee the return of her husband. 

If you have read my review of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, you will already know that I am a big fan of his work. The books are enormous fun and intelligently constructed, with great appeal to those who enjoy literary allusion and satire. Lost in a Good Book offers unique perspective on well-known works - with Thursday's secondment to Great Expectations, a brief sojourn into Kafka's The Trial, and a Jursifiction Committee Meeting that takes place in Sense and Sensibility. These are not, however, allusions designed for intellectual consideration. Rather, Fforde's purpose is to bring pure and unadulterated enjoyment to his readers.

" 'Okay,' continued the Bellman. 'Jurisfiction meeting number 40,311 is now in session.' He tingled his bell again, coughed and consulted a clipboard. 'Item one is bad news, I'm afraid.' There was a respectful hush. He paused for a moment and picked his words carefully. 'I think we will all have come to the conclusion that David and Catriona aren't coming back. It's been eighteen sessions now and we have to assume that they've been...boojummed.' There was a reflective pause. 'We remember David and Catriona Balfour as friends, colleagues, worthy members of our calling, protagonists in Kidnapped and Catriona, and for all the booksploring they did - especially finding a way into Barchester, for which we will always be grateful. I ask for a minute's silence. To the Balfours!'"

Lost in a Good Book employs many of the mechanisms that made The Eyre Affair a literary success, but most of its appeal undoubtedly resides in its protagonist. Thursday Next is the epitome of an independent and uncompromising heroine - defiant, brilliant, and perceived as the greatest threat to the villains of the piece. I believe that it is shockingly rare to find a female heroine presented as such purely on the basis of her personal virtues and vices. Fforde's faithful and consistent delivery of a character worthy of admiration is a large part of the series' brilliance. Combined with a humour that virtually leaps off of the pages, no aspect of this book speaks to anything other than an utter zest for literary entertainment.

"...I read the library passage again and was soon with Miss Havisham. 'This is the outings book,' she said without looking up. 'Name, destination, date, time - I've filled it in already. Are you armed?' 'Always - do you expect any trouble?' Miss Havisham drew out her small pistol, released the twin barrels, pivoted it upward and gave me one of her more serious stares. 'I always expect trouble, Thursday. I was on HPD - Heathcliff Protection Duty - in Wuthering Heights for two years and, believe me, the ProCaths tried everything - I personally saved him from assassination eight times.'"

So with some fantastically farcical literary crossovers (I mean, who could not love the idea of Miss Havisham saving Heathcliff from assassination?) and the greatest of comical heroines, Lost in a Good Book serves as perfect light escapism for the dedicated bibliophile. I could not have picked a better means for post-exam reading relaxation!




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