Lost in a Good Book
Welcome to wild world of Thursday Next where the Crimean War has just ended, wooly mammoths migrate, Neanderthals are fighting for their civil rights, and to win public office in England you need to have the backing of the Shakespeare fanatics. It’s also a world where a select few have the ability to leap into books and become part of the action. If they’re not careful, they may change the book forever.
Which is exactly what Thursday did in her debut The Eyre Affair; therefore, when Lost in a Good Book opens she’s on the tail end of a publicity tour about her time in Jane Eyre and the new happier ending. While appearing on a talk show she meets a Mr. Schitt-Hawse from the Goliath Corporation, a company that takes its motto – “For all you’ll ever need” – a little too literally. Mr. Schitt-Hawse needs Thursday go back into a copy of Poe’s The Raven to retrieve his half-brother and fellow Goliath executive, Jack Schitt. As it was she who who stranded him there in the first place Thursday has no desire to go back for him, not to mention the fact her Uncle Mycroft has taken his invention that she used to jump into books (the Prose Portal), with him into retirement.
Meanwhile Thursday is enjoying life as a newlywed with her husband Landen, and they’ve just discovered that they’re going to become parents. While at work one day Thursday notices a slight shift in colors around her, but brushes it off until she gets home and finds Landen’s parents living there. His mother thinks Thursday is playing some sick joke when she says she’s Landen’s wife, because he drowned when he was two years old. That’s when she learns that Mr. Schitt-Hawse has had her husband eradicated, and the only way she can get him back is if she retrieves Jack.
What can she do? She can’t leap into books without the Prose Portal – or can she? Thursday finds herself employed by Jurisfiction, i.e. the administration of all the books that have been written or will ever be written, because she’s one of the rare few who can leap into books. Apprenticed to Miss Havisham (of Great Expectations fame) Thursday learns about her special skill and hones it so she can go after Jack if it comes to that. All the while she’s also dealing with attempts on her life that involve bizarre coincidences, the potential end of the world, and a horrible dilemma: if she’s still pregnant, but Landen doesn’t exist, is he the father or is it someone else?
Confused yet? Don’t worry, it comes with the territory. There’s so much going on and so many references to pop culture, literature, and English history that it can take several reads to catch everything. While this makes for a fun read and can keep a trivia geek like myself happy for hours, it can also be a frustrating drawback because you know you’re missing something. Another drawback is this book doesn’t stand well on its own. While a reader can start with Lost in a Good Book, to fully understand what’s going on it helps to have read The Eyre Affair because so much of what is going on is set up there and explained. Yet, the reader may spend so much time laughing or being amused at the parody of our own reality that it’s easy to ignore the book’s faults.
Since the book is written from the first person point of view, it is a good thing that Thursday is a likable character. She is frequently as amused as the reader by the world around her and her frustration as her life falls apart is quite understandable. She has a witty, snarky sense of humor that I particularly enjoy. If there was any flaw in her character, it’s the fact she’s not very believable as a girl. I know the author is male and while he makes an admirable attempt to write from the female point of view, it’s just off. I can’t pin it down to one particular scene or plot point, but it’s the overall feel of how Thursday reacts to a situation or the way she phrases her words. It may be more noticeable because we spend the entire story in Thursday’s head.
There are many other fascinating characters that round out the cast and would take too long to discuss, but I feel I’d be remiss in not pointing out the excellent Miss Havisham. She’s much less depressing but just as demanding as Dickens’ creation. Here she has a vicious rivalry going with the Red Queen, a love of reckless driving, and (despite her justified animosity towards men) a secret passion for romance novels.
Overall this is a fascinating and completely entertaining read. Fforde has created a world that will keep a reader on their toes and challenge their knowledge. My only caveat is the Thursday Next series needs to be read in order to appreciate it fully.