Having a bad day at work or school? Don’t even try competing with Thursday Next, the protagonist of Welsh author Jasper Fforde’s best-selling fantasy/literary detective novels. In the latest, The Well of Lost Plots (Viking, 384 pp., $24.95), Next finds her professional and personal lives in utter disarray. Escaping the real world for BookWorldan alternate universe populated by characters from the whole of Western literatureoffers no respite from her troubles, as the planned launch of a new operating system, UltraWord™, leads to unforeseen consequences.
In this installment, apprentice Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next is in the final stages of her training, she’s fighting a Fiction Infraction charge for changing the ending of Jane Eyre (as recounted in The Eyre Affair, the first Thursday Next novel), and she’s standing in for a minor character in a poorly written unpublished book as a participant of the Character Exchange Program. She is also carrying the child of her retroactively murdered husband. To make matters worse, instead of looking forward to a good night’s sleep at the end of the day, Next must contend with a mnemonomorph intent on stealing the memories of her husband.
The mind-blowingly intricate mechanics of the novel take some getting used to. Fforde, who worked in the movie business before selling his first book, is fiendishly clever, simultaneously celebrating and sending up the literary canon. At the 923rd Annual BookWorld Awards, for example, categories include “Most Tiresome Jane Austen Character” and “Shakespearean Character You’d Most Like to Slap.”
Fforde gives his books a mythological bent as he deftly explains life in BookWorld. Ever wonder why people have different opinions of books? Perhaps some of them are reading while the A-level characters are attending the aforementioned BookWorld Awards. “With all the usual characters away at the awards, fiction wasn’t quite so good,” Next comments, “but no one generally noticed.”
BookWorld is a strange place indeed, particularly in the Harry Potter-esque world of the Well, where shady, desperateand sometimes dangeroustypes will do anything to sell a plot device. Still, for avid readers, the idea of spending time within the pages of a favorite novel is particularly appealing. Who wouldn’t envy Next’s ability to stop in one book for treats before meeting her Jurisfiction mentor Miss Havisham for tea in another?
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