Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next #2)

Written by: Jasper Fforde

Published: 2002

Synopsis: The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with Jasper Fforde's magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction, the police force inside books. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens's Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe's "The Raven." What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications. Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter's The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth.

Since this a sequel don't get your panties in a twist if I reveal some plot details about the previous book. Also, why not read my review for the series' first book, The Eyre Affair

'But this is preposterous!' Shouted Hopkins as he was dragged away. 'No,' replied the magistrate, 'this is Kafka'. 

Is this the most British series to ever be written? I think the only possible answer is a resounding YES. I could basically taste the tea and crumpets as I read Thursday's current adventure and I'm 90% sure the Queen waved at me on page 192. This is by no means a criticism, it's utterly delightful actually and maybe one of my favourite aspects of the book, but I don't think I've seen the words  "oh I say" "hear hear" and "pip pip" in greater quantity since The King's Speech. At its best it's like one long really great Monty Python sketch, filled with in-jokes and self-deprecation and adorable British stereotypes like bumbling men in tweed suits, bowler hats and monocles. And it's maybe possibly that a lot of that imagery is in my head only and not actually part of the book, but if that's the case I highly recommend you do things my way because it's BRILL (the most English word that ever did English-FACT).*

I was left feeling a little mixed after reading The Eyre Affair, I enjoyed most of the story without really being sure if I liked it enough to continue the rest of the series. I came across Lost in a Good Book on an especially disappointing library trip (everything I wanted was wait listed, how's that even possible?) and thought "why not". I still have a few issues with the series, but for the most part I think I am officially a Thursday Next convert. They're fun and bright books that manage to combine light literary references, humour and crime adventures in one delightful package. Thursday Next is a great protagonist, she's feisty, intelligent, funny and sarcastic. Her somewhat anti-authoritarian attitude (she must have been a nightmare in the army) is the root of most of her problems, but she takes responsibility for her role in this and that alone makes her a better protagonist than a lot of the other female protagonists featured in crime fiction - which is a pretty small batch to begin with.

But - and I feel a little overreacting-fun-hating feminist-y even bringing it up - I'm a little trouble by the relationship aspect of this story. In my review of The Eyre Affair I was a little dismayed at how much of the plot revolved around the angsty will-they-won't-they relationship junk with Landon, ending with the two of them marrying spontaneously. I don't have an issue with her being in a relationship or even with the characterisation of Landon (and both of these are depicted much more effectively this time around), but... how do I put this? Without Landon there is no Thursday. He is the motivator for the entire plot to go forward, and while she isn't lamenting the end of their past relationship in this book, he is the entire reason she does anything. She finds herself part of the Jurisfiction forces (more on this later) because she needs to find a way into The Raven to save him, she goes back in time because she needs to try and save him, and she won't consider going sideways in time because it would mean he's not part of her life for a year. And maybe it's just because I felt their relationship was forced in the first book, but at this stage it kind of feels like the author was like "what motivates women to be kickass awesome people? Oh their husbands, of course". And Thursday isn't the only woman depressed or forced into action because something happened to the man in her life, it's the same for at least 4 other women (who I won't mention for fear of spoilers) and it's just, really Mr Fforde? We couldn't have at least had one book where Landon sat home drinking tea while Thursday did her literatec duties? I don't know, I'm completely aware that I'm overreacting to a bit of a non-issue, especially since I honestly really like Thursday's character outside of this, but it just feels like a crutch, like "ok I will write a female protagonist but I need to have a guy within reach because writing women is hard".

So with that off my chest I can get back into praising the book, and I really did like it. Truly-ruly. In Lost in a Good Book the plot is a little all over the place (but in the best kind of way). It opens with Thursday suffering through a series of heavily censored interviews and televised events to (not really) discuss the changing of the Jane Eyre ending events from the previous book, enjoying marital bliss, finding out from her time-travelling dad that the world is going to end in a week, discovering a long lost Shakespearian play and being hounded by the Goliath Corporation to release Jack Schitt from Poe's poem The Raven. Get all that? It's a pretty heavily plotted book, but most begin as small threads that slowly build and expand before coming together pretty neatly towards the end, and they aren't nearly as erratic as I just described it.

Thursday's job as a literatec makes me giddy with excitement (a literary detective? UM YES PLEASE) but in this book we're introduced to jurisfiction which is just SO much better. Jurisfiction is mostly made up of fictional characters who police books. They keep an eye on bowdlerisers (terrorists intent on removing salacious content from books) and grammacites (monster-y creatures that literally eat parts of the text), they keep an eye on the unfinished and unpublished manuscripts and a number of other delightful literary tasks. And they do all of this by page jumping between books or stopping in at the library (that houses all books that are and ever will be) that is overseen by the Cheshire Cat. They have a footnote phone to communicate with characters in their texts, which is then used in this book and the whole thing is so bookish and meta and delightful. Oh and Thursday is apprenticed to Mrs Havisham. Can you even imagine? These books are basically porn for readers and book lovers, and it's for us alone. If you aren't a reader or a writer I can't imagine you liking the quirky little bookish references or bits of literary whimsy. You either wouldn't recognise the references, wouldn't appreciate the nerdy love for books that this series espouses so heavily or it might just seem a little silly. But you'd be wrong, and missing out on a great book.

What, you need proof? Fine, it just so happens I came to this review prepared.

On book jumping into Poe:
His books are not fixed; there is a certain oddness that goes with them. Most macabre Gothic fiction tends to be like that - Sade is the same, also Webster, Wheatley and King. They have a way of weaving you into the story and before you know it you're stuck there.
On being a literary character:
“I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people read your thoughts!”
On Wuthering Heights:
“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.” 
And because I'm not sure how else to wind up this review, and I don't feel like I've fully impressed on you how fun and silly and great this book even outside of the literary-ness, I'm going to leave you with one final quote:
“How fishy on the fishiness scale? Ten is a stickleback and one is a whale shark."
"A whale isn't a fish, Thursday." 
"A whale shark is--sort of." 
"All right, it's as fishy as a crayfish." 
"A crayfish isn't a fish." 
"A starfish, then." 
"Still not a fish." 
"This is a very odd conversation, Thursday.”
See. Witty and wonderful, just like I told you.

*Did I just break the record for most superficial British/English stereotypes in a paragraph ever?


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