Written by Hannah
Jasper Fforde has created a whole new world with his Thursday Next series. The fourth book in the series comes out in Augsust 2004, but before you delve into that one, Hannah reviews the first three books: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
There’s always talk about novels being different and innovative, etc. and normally I take all claims with a grain of salt but… this novel actually is different. I’m going to attempt to summarize the plot but I’m going to warn you in advance that it sounds insane. Notice I said sounds. It reads as rollicking good fun.
Anyway, the plot is this: It’s 1985, and Great Britain is pretty much a police state, locked in an endless war with Russia. Literature is the force that shapes popular culture and someone is stealing manuscripts of classic novels and holding them ransom. The only person who can stop this is a woman named Thursday Next, who works for the government’s Literary Division.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It is crazy, but it doesn’t matter because Fforde makes it work. The plot is the best part of this novel – it’s inventive, it’s delightful, it’s fun. This is a fun book.
However, there are a few flaws – the heroine is interesting but pretty flat – I liked what I was reading about more than I cared about her – and the book ends with the door wide open for a sequel. I wouldn’t recommend this if you aren’t into reading a series, because you won’t get the closure you’re looking for. Additionally, character development isn’t a priority here. What you will find is an outrageously inventive plot that works very well, doubly so if you were an English major in college.
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
The sequel to The Eyre Affair continues the adventures of Thursday Next. As fun as the first book was, this one is even better, with a crazy and witty plot that works so well that it’s close to breathtaking. Fforde’s universe is bizarre and compelling, a place where dodos and mammoths still roam, literature is worshipped (there’s a description of a crowd at a book sale that is pure joyous amusement for any book lover), and where it’s possible to literally enter a book. The weakest part of the first book, the love story between Thursday and Landen, is lessened tremendously because he’s pretty much gone for most of the story. The plot (believe me, I’m stripping it down quite a bit) is that Thursday comes home from work one day and finds out that Landen’s history has been altered – he now drowned when he was a child – and the only way she can get him back is by retrieving Jack Schitt out of The Raven (where he was trapped at the end of the last book).
By the end of the book, he’d convinced me of everything I hadn’t found convincing in the first story, and taken me on a hell of a ride. Because, you see, besides trying to rescue her husband, Thursday is also learning how to jump in and out of books from Miss Havisham, still wrangling with the Goliath Corporation, having to go on trial in Kafka’s The Trial, taking a ride through the center of the Earth, and dealing with drops in entropy. And did I mention that she’s also pregnant? Cause she’s dealing with that too. A fun, riotous ride of a story.
The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
My problem with the first book – lackluster characterization – was overcome by the strength of the plot, which revolves around Thursday’s adventures in a world that is like ours, but yet is very, very different. And in the second book I felt Fforde really hit his stride and couldn’t wait to know what happened next.
In other words, I was really looking forward to The Well of Lost Plots.
Unfortunately, it’s not as good as its predecessor and isn’t even as good as the first book. Thursday, who was pregnant at the end of the second book, is now inside the place where all novels are created, hiding out from her enemies and learning more about the duties she started to take on in the previous novel. There’s some great stuff in here – Fforde has an imagination like you wouldn’t believe, and I do adore his use of footnotes, as well as the way he can spin endlessly creative ideas about writing and words themselves. But the plot? It stinks. For once I can sum it up in a sentence: Thursday – hiding from her enemies and trying not to forget her husband (because one of her enemies has the power to manipulate memories) – uncovers a fiendish plot related to the development of a new system that will supposedly revolutionize how books are written and read, and faces all sorts of kind of amusing adventures and not very obstacle-y obstacles only to win out in the end… but not enough to close everything up, as we’re due for book four in August 2004.
Basically, The Well of Lost Plots suffers from series-itis. Fforde is a clever guy and I do love his idea of a world where literature is adored, where the creation of books is less about inspiration and more about dizzyingly amusing bureaucracy, but Thursday’s characterization can barely even be called characterization and the whole thing reads as a holding pattern for the next book. And maybe I’m crazy, but I want more out of a novel than that.