Jasper Fforde: Lost in a Good Book

Review of the novel Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde.

It’s been several years since I read The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde’s first book about Thursday Next of the British Special Operations Network, which means I’m now about four books behind. So I’d better get cracking, huh?

Lost in a Good Book spends a couple of chapters recapping the events of The Eyra Affair before launching into its own story: The Goliath Corporation wants to get back its operative Jack Schitt, who was trapped in the pages of a copy of The Raven at the end of the previous book, and naturally it also wants to find out how to get into and out of works of fiction, and Schitt’s half-brother Schitt-Hawse is convinced that Thursday knows how to do it, and he’s willing to use extreme measures to get what he wants. Thursday also notices that an awful lot of coincidences are occurring around her, and they’re not happy coincidences. Lastly, her time-travelling father turns up again and warns her that the end of the world appears to be nigh, unless one of them can figure out what’s going to happen and how to stop it. And in the middle of all this, Thursday is recruited to work for Jurisfiction, an organization of real and fictional people who work together to prevent the sorts of damage to works of fiction that Acheron Hades attempted in the first book.

Lost in a Good Book can be summed up as “more of the same” – if you enjoyed The Eyre Affair then you’ll probably enjoy this one. It does suffer from “second in a series syndrome”, though: The first book came to a decisive conclusion and a happy ending, while this one has a lot of setup for a longer storyline. Some things do get resolved (that’s right, the world doesn’t end), but the driving force behind Thursday’s angst is left hanging, and she ends up having to retreat from the world in a sort-of cliffhanger for the next novel.

My recollection of reading Eyre was that the going-into-a-fictional-work stuff was the least interesting idea in the story, and it’s certainly the least interesting idea in this one. Jurisfiction is all well and good, but whenever Thursday had popped into its world or some other book I keep wishing we could get back to the time travel and genetically engineers neanderthals and demons and stuff. It looks like it’s going to be a central element of the later books, though, so I guess I’d better get used to it if I’m going to keep reading.

I’m not that down on the book, though. Fforde’s writing style is still wry and lighthearted, which keeps the book moving along even in its darker moments. Thursday’s life is populated with a variety of entertaining characters, especially her family and her peers at work (her bosses and other bigwigs are less entertaining, and perhaps take the theme of bureaucratic oppression too far at times). I especially enjoy Spike, the occult-creature hunter who’s ostracized within SO, but who’s befriended by Thursday since they’re both outsiders of a sort.

Overall I’d say that Lost is a step backwards overall from Eyre, mainly because it mostly explores the elements from the first book I was least interested in, and it’s not as tight a novel. It’s still entertaining and is a quick read, so as sheer entertainment it works out just fine. I keep feeling like Fforde could have turned this series into something a lot more memorable if he’d just taken it in a different direction, though.