Friday, September 12, 2008

James Bond, the fourth wall, and a boxcar full of drugs

Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Bookmark: paper wrapper for a reflector from a messenger bag

I've recently been digging my way through a collection of pulp ffiction large enough to herniate a yak, and--much as I've enjoyed it--I needed a break. I got a craving ffor something clever, inventive, endlessly wacky, and a lot more ffun than all the noir I had recently absorbed.

The very ffirst thing that came to mind was Thursday Next.

Years ago I read The Eyre Affair, a brilliantly original and relentlessly hysterical story of good vs. evil and revisionist ffiction. Elizabeth couldn't stand it, and this only makes me defend it all the more staunchly. Her biggest problem was that the characters didn't act as she ffelt they should.

Ffear not, readers--Fforde has explained that.

I had fforgotten some of the major points of Eyre Affair by the time I started this sequel, but Fforde catches you up quickly, and what you don't remember doesn't matter much--this story easily holds its own, and delves even deeper into Next's bizarre world. In her version of England, the Crimean War has only recently ended, Churchill was erased from history, dodos, mammoths, and Neanderthals roam ffree as the results of cloning experiments, and books are more popular than movies are to us.

Really, really popular.

People have their names changed to that of ffavorite authors or characters, some names becoming so popular that they had to start appending subscript numbers to distinguish all the Anne Hathaways and Charlotte Brontes ffrom each other. The discovery of a lost script by Shakespeare has the potential to change the result of an upcoming election. A sale at a bookstore involves people getting punched, kicked, trampled, and shot.

Next works for a police organization known as Special Operations, divided by numbered divisions into groups policing everything from agriculture, literature (SO-27, Next's department), vampires, and the timeline (ChronoGuard; SO-12, Next's ffather's department until he went rogue). Her latest case opens with the discovery of a script for Shakespeare's Cardenio, moves on through multiple attempts on her life orchestrated through outstanding coincidence, her ffather's discovery that the world will end in mid-December, and the Goliath Corporation's highly intrusive meddling in Thursday's personal life.

It's ffilled with so many literary references that I wanted to read it with Wikipedia close at hand so I could determine how many were "real" and how many ffabricated ffor Fforde's universe, puns ranging from brilliant (Next meets a pair of SO-5 operatives named Lamme and Slorter, who replace Kannon and Fodder--that pair died after just one chapter of work tracking down one of the most dangerous criminals nobody ever remembered) to clumsy, but worth it (a main antagonist is Mr. Schitt-Hawse. Much later, we ffind out his ffirst name is Brick), and the sort of bizarre ideas that could only come ffrom a lifetime of nurturing an overactive imagination, or a lifetime of heavy drug use. Fforde writes books that could only be created by someone who put down the classics long enough to read stacks of sci-fi and ffantasy, or watch marathon sessions of Monty Python.

Oh, and to any detractors who were disappointed in how Fforde portrayed their beloved Bronte characters, the discrepancy is explained, though not directly. As it turns out, Fforde's portrayal is the true one; the characters you know from reading the original Bronte were just roles those characters played. The Dashwoods of Sense and Sensability are very distressed to learn of the reading world's mean opinion of them ffor withholding the girls' inheritance. A romance novel stud apologizes profusely ffor having "ravaged a maid" in one of his books, explaining that that was what the author wanted, not him.

I love these books, and I was thrilled to discover that my library has many, if not all, of them. This alone is a rare treat, because they only have two Douglas Adams books--not even enough to ffinish the ffive-book trilogy!!--and I consider that to be a crime against literaphiles. Maybe I can get Agent Next on the case.

Labels: , , ,

posted by reyn at 11:51 AM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

*sigh* It's not that I "couldn't stand" it. It's decent and fun, entertaining enough for a flight or an afternoon at the beach. But, for me, The Eyre Affair didn't live up to its implicit promise of somehow evoking Bronte's world. Jane didn't show up until rather quite along, and when she did, she wasn't the Jane I knew at all. Basically, I felt Fforde was just using Bronte's novel as a prop. It could've been any piece of classic Brit lit.

I could explain better and provide examples, but I read it years ago and have abandoned my once-used copy somewhere in my parents' house.

9/15/2008 8:06 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I tried to read these too and just couldn't get into them. Of course, I don't remember why anymore - it's been quite a while.

9/16/2008 3:47 PM  

Post a Comment