At the end of Jasper Fforde's debut novel The Eyre Affair, his "literary detective" Thursday Next prevented arch-villain Acheron Hades from infiltrating the manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnapping the heroine. Next then capped the happy ending by marrying her old flame. As Fforde's sequel Lost In A Good Book opens, Next is pregnant and working the talk-show circuit on behalf of the beleaguered British "Special Operations Network" (of which Next is an SO-27, in charge of investigating book-related crime). She's also being harassed by Brontë fanatics who want her to return to Jane Eyre and fix the ending–a request she has no time to accommodate, since she's just been enlisted by her fugitive time-traveling father to prevent the world's imminent destruction by a mysterious pink goo. Meanwhile, Next's husband has disappeared, and a covert organization of fictional characters including Alice In Wonderland's Cheshire Cat and Great Expectations' Miss Havisham is urging Next to hone her "book jumping" ability so that she can join their prose-protection agency. Unlike The Eyre Affair, which loosely outlined the parameters of Next's alternate universe while telling a fairly direct story, Lost discards basic explanations and intricate plotting in favor of idle playtime. Fforde spends entire chapters exploring SpecOps' other divisions, and describing the programming of his invented media outlets, "The Toad," "The Mole," and "The Owl." He discourses on Next's world, where in 1985, the no-longer-extinct dodo is a popular pet, and people travel through the center of the Earth via Gravitube. The digressions force a rushed conclusion to Fforde's central narrative, and those who haven't read The Eyre Affair will be stymied all the way through, but Lost In A Good Book is a marvelous expansion on the Welsh author's defining theme. As he references the classics, even the well-read may wonder whether he's making stuff up or if they missed something in Comp Lit. Fforde shows how bibliophiles develop intense relationships with their favorites, and imagine the world of the book extending beyond the printed page. Then he establishes the same conditions for his own readers. While romping through the canon, Fforde invents whimsical science-fiction conceits and draws microscopic distinctions between Thursday Next and the "fictional" characters she meets. The dense layers of fantasy and reality are sweetly intoxicating and delightfully confusing.
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