THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS
By Jasper Fforde
Hodder and Stoughton, 360 pp.
Early in the last century, G.K. Chesterton published The Man Who Was Thursday, an amusing spy thriller with characters named after days of the week. More recently, another British author, Jasper Fforde, introduced the world to Thursday Next, the heroine of what has become a series of preposterously allusive comedies about a world with few boundaries between reality and fiction.
Fforde has invented a world where some people have the ability to jump between time periods and change history. As all Star Trek watchers know, when you mess with the past you affect the present. As a result, Thursdays times are seriously out of joint. For example, shes a youthful veteran of the Crimean War, which is still going on almost 200 years after it was supposed to end, and she does drive a car, but when she flies she takes a lumbering airship. Real history isnt the only victim, either. Thursday works as a LiteraTec, a literary detective who has to track down criminals who have the ability to enter the world of a book, change events and abduct characters.
Thursday first appeared in The Eyre Affair, where she made her reputation and charmed readers by triumphing over evil and, in the process, changing the ending of Jane Eyre to the one readers now know and love. (In Thursdays world, everyone had been reading a novel in which Jane marries the wrong fellow.)
Ffordes followup, The Well of Lost Plots, finds Tuesday hiding out from an unspeakably evil adversary in a sort of witness protection program that lets you enter a widely unread book and live within its rarely visited fictional world. There she meets other characters on holiday from their own books, like Jules Vernes Captain Nemo. But above all, she enters into the world of book creation, where grimy operatives buy and sell plot devices, and crank out generic characters until the completed plot is ready to be downloaded through ImaginoTransference into the head of an author here in the Outworld (or what we call the "real world").
Thursday tries to live quietly, but, of course, shes drawn into confronting evil once again, flanked by formidable fictional allies like Dickenss Miss Havisham.
Ffordes odd confection of stock English themes and characters, science-fiction liberties with time and space, and a real Penguin Classics lovers repertoire of literary in-jokes make for plenty of mildly nerdy fun for readers. Thursday Next also has a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayers appeal that is, shes unthinkingly valorous and good-hearted, and confronts unspeakable evil as part of her daily routine.
The Well of Lost Plots lacks the narrative drive of The Eyre Affair and relies instead on Ffordes playful crossings of well-known fiction with Thursdays own slow-paced adventures. The fun lies in watching Fforde devise more logical implausibilities to furnish the world his heroine enters. You certainly feel at times as though the plot has been lost but you may not care much, because Ffordes inventiveness never stops burbling away.
Jasper Fforde is appearing a WordFest on Thursday, October 16 and Friday, October 17.