Written by: Jasper Fforde
Synopsis: Leaving Swindon behind her, to hide out in the Well of Lost Plots - the place where all fiction is created - Thursday Next, Literary Detective and soon-to-be one parent family, ponders her next move from inside an unpublished novel of dubious merit entitled Caversham Heights. Her husband, Landen, exists only in her memories and with Goliath and the Chronoguard on her tail in the real world, the safest place for her to be is inside the covers of a book.
But changes are afoot within the world of fiction. The much-awaited upgrade to the centuries-old book system --- in which grammasites will be exterminated, punctuation standardised and the number of possible plots increased from eight to an astonishing thirty-two --- is only weeks away. But if this is the beginning of a golden age in fictional narrative, then why are Jurisfiction agents mysteriously dying? Perkins is eaten by the minotaur, Snell succumbs to the Mispeling Vyrus and Godot is missing.
There'll be spoilers for books 1 and 2 in this review. Probably. So be warned.
“Anything devised by man has bureaucracy, corruption and error hardwired at inception.”
I know I've been a little hard on this series in the past but I have come fully on board with the Jasper Fforde/Thursday Next appreciation club. All of my issues with the previous two were completely sorted out in this third installment of the Thursday Next series.
Less Deus Ex Machina? Check.
Less dependence on Landon to motivate the plot? Check.
More Thursday being awesome and independent and kickass? Oh my god, check.
For the first time I felt like this was a book actually about Thursday and her literary adventures, rather than just an excuse to put some clever references and ideas to paper. It was more focused, much tighter and infinitely more interesting as a mystery novel. I'm guessing Jasper Fforde finally got comfortable in his voice and role as author, or maybe it just took 2 books to really work out what it was he wanted to achieve with this series. Either way, The Well of Lost Plots was an absolute winner.
Thursday is now living within the literary world, holed away in an unpublished crime novel. As her stay is part of an organised character exchange Thursday has to take on one of the roles, while also juggling her new work as an apprentice Jurisfiction agent, early pregnancy and a memory-worm which is actively trying to remove any trace of her eradicated husband Landon. She has a full plate is what I'm saying. Except that's not even the tip of the iceberg. She's also living in, and maintaining, a flying boat - which I had to google and now I want one - looking after two Generics* and caught in the middle of an treacherous plot which causes the deaths of several Jurisfiction agents. While there is plenty going on here, every story thread leads to the next and none seem extraneous to the central mystery that Thursday explores.
Because the mystery and central story-lines were better tied together in this volume I actually found myself enjoying the little literary mentions even more than before. And it's the little things which make the book so unique and fabulous. It's basically Harry Potter for grown ups,** there are hints and flourishes designed purely for the literary and grammar minded. Like the Mispelling Vyrus being contained by dictionaries, or the lack of U's in American English being due to a U shortage. Fforde clearly loves reading and the worlds you get to explore as a reader, because there are so many loving touches that pay tribute to readers everywhere.
“After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer's breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more.”I wonder if Fforde spent his youth wondering up these back-stories for classic stories and characters, because some of them are really brilliantly imaginative. Like the counselling sessions in Wuthering Heights. These sessions are mentioned in the earlier books but this time we actually get to witness one. It's not only great because of the catharsis that's given seeing these horrible, horrible characters fight it out, but we also find out that the book has been evolving and getting more angry since its original publishing. I LOVE how fluid Fforde represents fiction as being because it makes sense. As the outside world changes the perspectives and points of view that we bring to our reading changes from earlier generations. Like it or not the way we read Dickens is incredibly different to how the people read Dickens when it was originally published. And why shouldn't that impact the actual story and characters within?
I also really, really loved the women in this book. In my review of The Eyre Affair I accused the series of barely passing the Bechdel test, which was mostly driven by my absolute hatred of the shoehorned relationship. The characters, female and male, in this book are far more nuanced. Thursday is this beautiful mix of hardass go-getter and vulnerability. When it comes to her work she pushes herself to try new things and grasp difficult concepts immediately, but in her personal life she's far less sure of herself. Her dream fight with Aornis and the resulting bad memories which are dredged by repeatedly add such a depth to her character and made me love her far more. The other supporting females, Thursday's nana, Mrs Havisham, Lola and even the villainous Aornis are almost mentors to Thursday, bringing something different, a varying perspective, to help her make sense of the chaos that now surrounds her life. So Fforde I apologise for being mean before, you've proved you can write a female protagonist and a litany of other females. Bravo!
Now that this series has hit its stride I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next. How will Thursday get Landon back? Will she succeed against the Goliath Corporation? What will the fallout from this book's conclusion be? What will Thursday be like as a mother? How many other puns, literary tips-of-the-hat and grammar jokes can Fforde make? If you're yet to launch into this series then you should definitely do so asap, because this is fast becoming one of my favourite series.
*characters before they become characters. Basically blank slates + college students.
**Not that adults shouldn't read HP.