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Friday, February 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Book Review
Too much of a good thing in literally literary series

By Alix Wilber
Special to The Seattle Times

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To briefly recap: When last seen at the end of "Lost in a Good Book," Jasper Fforde's second entry in the Thursday Next series of literally literary alternate-reality-whodunits, our heroine had taken refuge from her enemies in the pages of an unpublished novel.

If you're wondering how this is even possible, you obviously haven't met Thursday Next and are woefully unfamiliar with the physics of literature as it applies in her world. If that's the case, you are advised to stop reading this review now, and go back to the beginning with Fforde's delightful first novel, "The Eyre Affair," and its sequel. Unfortunately, those of us already acquainted with literatecs, prose portals, the Goliath Corporation and Jurisfiction might want to do the same, because the latest installment in Thursday Next's continuing adventures, "The Well of Lost Plots" (Viking, $24.95), proves to be a bit of a disappointment.

This one picks up where the last left off: The pregnant Next, whose husband, Landon, has been eradicated by the multinational Goliath Corporation, needs a place to hide. She finds it through the "character exchange program," a kind of sabbatical for fictional characters who want a break from their well-plotted lives. Taking over from Mary, a secondary character in an unpublished murder mystery, Thursday moves into the "Cavendish Heights" plot, stock and barrel.

Thursday's responsibilities to the novel are minimal. She spends most of her time working cases with her mentor in Jursifiction (the force that polices the characters inside fiction), Miss Haversham of "Great Expectations." From neutralizing aggressive grammasites that feed on adjectives to thwarting ProCaths, a fanatical guerrilla group whose only aim is to kill Heathcliff from "Wuthering Heights," Thursday has her work cut out for her. Meanwhile, she's still trying to figure out how to rescue Landon, and how to defend herself from the memory-bending antics of her arch-enemy, Aornis Acheron.

Author appearance


Jasper Fforde will autograph "The Well of Lost Plots: A Thursday Next Novel," Tuesday, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St., Seattle, free (206-587-5737 or www.seattlemystery.com). Call for time. He will read at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle, free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybooks.com).
In theory, this all sounds quite amusing; in practice, however, it often proves exhausting. One of the chief delights of "The Eyre Affair" and "Lost in a Good Book" was the way Fforde bent reality (there'll always be an England) until he turned it inside out (communist Republic of Wales, anyone?). Fforde's inspired lunacy allowed "real" characters such as Thursday to intrude into the lives of fictional ones and witness how they live when they're not on the page. But ultimately the story always returned to Thursday's world — a world where people take art seriously, as witnessed by the national crisis that erupts when Jane Eyre is kidnapped from the pages of her own book. And details such as rioting neo-classicists and earnest pamphleteers door-belling in support of Francis Bacon as the true author of Shakespeare's plays provide plenty of originality, lifting an otherwise workmanlike plot into the realm of the truly inspired.

"The Well of Lost Plots," however, proves that you can have too much of a good thing. Taking place almost entirely within the world of Jursifiction, the reader is barraged by a million subplots from "generics" (characters-in-training) to the latest story-transfer technology (Book 8.3 gives way to UltraWord {trade}) to the infighting within Jurisfiction. Taken individually, each invention has its own charms, but together they lead nowhere in particular. It's almost as if Fforde is lost in his own antic imagination, and this book has become a punch-line delivery device, rather than a coherent narrative on its own.

Readers may find themselves missing the "real" world Thursday used to occupy, where subplots were carefully tended, and the delightfully preposterous literary references enhanced the narrative instead of choking it like weeds.

Here's hoping that in the next Next, Thursday will remember that the Well is a nice place to visit, but she really shouldn't live there.


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