when I started reading Jasper Fforde's silly books for smart people, the Thursday Next series, to stick with them after the first because they only got better. I'm pleased to see that, as of this third novel, The Well of Lost Plots, the fangirls are right.
In this installment, our heroine, still pregnant by a father who never existed (her husband Landen having been eradicated by her time traveling enemies), is hiding out via the BookWorld's "Character Exchange Program" and serving in said world's equivalent to her home in LiteraTec, "Jurisfiction." The former has her living in an early draft of a bad detective novel so that the character she's replacing can get a break from the crime she's supposed to solve and the detective she's supposed to solve it with; the latter has her policing fiction and fictional characters from the inside alongside Miss Havisham, her mentor figure from the prior novel. Got all that? A bit head-scratchy, this, but on that front things get a whole lot worse.
With this novel, Fforde has gone all the way towards treating the world of novels not only as an elaborate theatrical troupe as we've seen in the first two Thursday Next stories, but is now including not only the set designers and directors and property managers but also the suppliers of raw materials for sets and costumes and whatnot, and treating plot devices and ideas and the very act of reading as tangible commodities as well. Much of the plot of The Well of Lost Plots (the title refers to the "place" whence comes all uncompleted, unpublished fiction) thus concerns the development of a new operating system for fiction -- think of the oral tradition as the first operating system, scrolls as a later one, books as an improvement on scrolls, etc -- with lots of flashy new features that has everyone very excited but that may be cause for some concern as well. It's impossible not to read this story as a sort of veiled critique of the development of ebooks, in other words, but it's very, very well veiled; the book never gets preachy at all, and lets the reader work out for herself what the pros and cons of a new delivery system for fiction might be.
But meanwhile, this is a Thursday Next novel, which means lots of inspired silliness. Like Miss Havisham running a sort of group therapy/anger management group for the characters of Wuthering Heights, all of whom have very strong feelings about one another. Heathcliffe steals the show there, of course, with his star turns and demands delivered via his agent and whatnot. Another, earlier segment, which explores the problems posed by misplaced modifiers when the sentences containing them are literalized, is exceptionally hilarious and entertaining if you are a certain type of person, which I am.
This all should have been unbearably twee, but miraculously, it never was. While the operating system/ebook critique plot did make me roll my eyes a bit when it was brought to the fore at the novel's climax, there was plenty of other stuff going on that, while also threatening to become unbearably twee, wound up being entertaining nonetheless. Thursday's battle with Aornis, or rather a mental representation of Aornis, the revenge-seeking sister of Thursday's former nemesis that is slowly eradicating Thursday's memories, not only of her no-longer-existing husband but of everything else, is what keeps the reader's attention most of the time, and while its resolution is a bit too tidy for my tastes, felt like a genuine conflict and source of tension in a way that the capital P Plot did not. A further exploration of Fforde's BookWorld was mostly fun, as was Thursday's first mission as a bona fide Jurisfiction agent, in which she had to work behind the scenes to repair a damaged children's book that threatened to have a bit too much of a downer ending (this is the girl who gave Jane Eyre a "new and improved" happy ending, after all).
I can't help but notice, though, that Thursday Next wound up finishing the novel in pretty much the same situation she started it, which I found frustrating. I'm going to have to simmer down for a while before I take up the next one.