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August 20, 2003

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Posted by damien

With the tragic loss of Douglas Adams, many have despaired of ever being so simoultaneously amused, educated and enthralled. But now, there is a new contender for the throne. Stand up Jasper Fforde

“I was in love once… I was quite besotted, in my own sort of way. We used to plan heinous deeds together, and for our first anniversary we set fire to a large public building. We then sat on a nearby hill together to watch the fire light up the sky, the screams of the terrified citizens a symphony to our ears’
-Acheron Hades, from Lost In A Good Book


Trying to write a review of Jasper Fforde’s new novel Lost In A Good Book is an utter nightmare. In fact, I cannot think of a harder book to review. This is not because the book in question has an unpleasant subject matter, or because the dialogue is stilted or becaue the charecters are two dimensional. No. Nothing like that at all. In fact, as you will hear, I am, in general, in love with this book.

The essential problem lies with the fact that the plot of this novel is stupefyingly impossible to describe.
Where to start?

Well…. OK, I think I have it. Lost In A Good Book (deep breath) concerns the ongoing adventures of the SpecOps detective Thursday Next (no, that’s her name) who, fresh from planet saving adventutres in the previous Fforde novel The Eyre Affair (reffering to Jane Eyre), has now become a bit of a celebrity. What with her jumping in and out of great novels (no, I mean actually jumping into them), foiling the machinations of the nefarious uber-villain Acheron Hades, falling in love, looking after her pet dodo Pickwick (uh huh), oh, and re-writing the ending of Jane Eyre.

No, wait, it gets better. Now, in this adventure, Next inadvertantly ticks off somebody at the super-nasty Goliath corporation (‘For all you’ll ever need’), who then cheerfully erases her husband from history. With me so far? Good.

Next must now set off to re-integrate her now non-existent husband back into the fabric of the universe, outwit the nasties at Goliath, travel through time with her dimensional hopping father, liase with Miss Havisham (she of Great Expectations fame), converse with the Cheshire Cat (yes, that one) and, of course save the planet from an unforseen catastrophe which will end with all matter on planet earth being transmogrified into a hideous pink goo. Naturally.

Throw in a sub-plot involving a lost and now found Shakespeare play (the legendary Cardenio), shifty Whig politicians, warring literary figures, wooly mammoth migrations, Neanderthal art (as in they painted it and hung it in a gallery) and you have the makings of one seriously fun read. Confused yet?
You bloody well should be.

As you may have guessed by now, the universe which Thurdsay Next inhabits is not quite right. Well, not by comparison to ours that is. Hers’ in a universe where wooly mammoths, dodos and even Neanderthals have been re-engineered. A world where the Crimean war never quite ended. A world where time travel is quite possible. A world where there are portals into great novels, accessed simply by knowing how to read them properly.
A world which is disquietingly close to George Orwell on acid.

I am getting a headache even trying to summarise a plot which quite frankly denies any attempt to do so. The simplest thing that I can tell you is to get your paws on a copy of this as soon as is possible and read it. This book is a lot of fun. Not simply, because of the multi-layered and self-referential plot strands (which are a hoot) but because Fforde is a great writer.

The dialogue is witty. The gags are well paced and polished. His observations are cutting without being eccentric and ironic without being sarcastic. The charecterisation is a joy. The sheer eccentricity and manic, haphazard twisting and turning of the ever expanding plot is just plain wonderful.

In addition Fforde uses his other-dimesional world to make shrewd observations about our rather more prosaic world, much in the same way that Terry Pratchet has been using his Discworld to poke fun at the idiocy of the real planet earth for many years. Most notable is the depiction of the ubiquitous Goliath corporation. They are Microsoft, Intel, General Electric, the CIA and Tesco rolled into one, effectively controlling everything that a citizen does, from the food consumed to the TV watched.

This world, like ours, is one where people are not citizens, but merely consumers. In one particularly funny scene, Next is interviewed for a highly rated TV show. The entire interview is overseen by an array of shifty, slimy company spin-doctors who interrupt her at every available opportunity, censor her, rule things un-discussable and render the whole situation a medieval farce.

Eventually she is left with nothing to discuss other than the finer points of how she likes her toast done. The odious mannerisms and farcical language of the Marketing types that Next has to deal with are expertly observed and also it is the complete refusal of Next to play ball and be a ‘company man’ that makes her so appealing.

We can only assume that Jasper Fforde’s previous career in the film industry dealing with the Louis Walsh’s and Don Simpsons’ of this world gave him plenty of experience in this type of thing.

To the ranks of the other great cult meta-fictional writers such as Flann O’Brien, Douglas Adams and Robert Rankin we should welcome Jasper Fforde.

Find out more at:
www.thursdaynext.com

Purchase Lost In A Good Book from Amazon.co.uk

Purchase Lost In A Good Book from Amazon.com



Posted by damien at August 20, 2003 3:57 PM



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