Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots (Hoder & Stoughton, 2003)
For those readers who have not yet had the privilege and enjoyment of keeping up with the adventures of literary detective Thursday Next, this is the third book of the series and one must read the first two books, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, before adventuring in this one. For those who are die-hard Thursday Next fans ... THIS IS THE THIRD BOOK! WOO!
A friend described the series to me once as 'crack for English majors', and indeed, that explains a good bit why I tend to lose composure in the presence of a Thursday Next book. Coming out once a year, each one is my 'fix' until the next one. The Eyre Affair posited a world where 'book-loving geek' was synonymous with 'member of the human race' and it's been an enjoyable world to lose oneself in ever since.
At the end of Lost in a Good Book, literary detective Thursday Next was in self-imposed exile within the Book World, a quasi-universe where the action of books actually takes place. The corner she went to live in was the Well of Lost Plots, the place in the Book World where books are created, later to be written by authors. The Well of Lost Plots starts up with Thursday settling in to her role in the pulp detective novel-in-the-making Caversham Heights. She is part of the character exchange program, which is a sort of vacation for literary characters so that they don't have to spend their entire existence acting out the same plot over and over and over. Because her role is not a major one in Caversham Heights, Thursday is given plenty of free time (when she's not expected to be onstage, or rather 'on text' in the novel) to train to become an agent of Jurisfiction, the policing agency within the Book World that keeps plots moving forward as they should.
This is also a momentous time of change within the Book World, for the Council of Genres is about to unleash the next operating system for books, replacing the current Book v8.0 with v9.0, UltraWord™. However, those Jursifiction agents who are given an advance copy of the operating system to test run begin to perish one by one. Eventually Thursday is left as the sole agent who is aware that something is up.
That is the plot for this book, but running alongside it is the series storyline, wherein Thursday's husband, Landen Park-Laine, still doesn't exist, having been eradicated by the ChronoGuard at the behest of the megacorporation, Goliath, to force Thursday to divulge the secrets of the Book World. The only thing keeping Landen from never being able to be restored are Thursday's memories of him. But Aornis Hades has planted a memory worm of herself within Thursday's brain and is slowly erasing every memory of Landen. While Thursday is trying to solve the mystery of the new operating system in the Book World, she also has to deal with a mnemonomorph messing with her memories.
It's not easy being Thursday Next.
The result is, as with the previous books in the series, an enjoyable romp through literary conventions and pretensions mixed with an exciting mystery story. We are, however, to the third book of the series, and The Well of Lost Plots seems to suffer a bit from 'middle book of a series' syndrome. You know the problem: the first book sets up everything, the last book resolves everything, but the middle book (or books) has to keep things going between the first and the third, and as such ends up feeling intercallary in nature. So with The Well of Lost Plots. There were points throughout the first half of the novel where I was tempted to rename it The Book of No Plot because Fforde seemed to be taking Thursday from one interesting (and fun, no less) scene in the Book World to the next (including the riotous anger-counseling session in Wuthering Heights!) without giving the book any direction. In the first two books, Fforde included many scenes that seemed superfluous until the very end, but they tended to be spread throughout the book, so you could bear with them. Then, in the end, it all came together and those chapters were no longer seen as superfluous. In The Well of Lost Plots; however, those chapters and scenes are all packed in in the first half of the book and the forward-moving action the reason for the book just isn't there. However, having read the first two books, I persevered, and I'm glad I did, for true to expectations, Fforde pulls everything together in the end. My advice to a reader of the book is to not give up hope: a plot will emerge, it just takes a little while.
By book's end, I found myself once again anxious for the next Thursday Next novel to continue the overarching story of Thursday's battle with Goliath and the ChronoGuard, not to mention her adventures in the Book World and her endeavor to reactualize her nonexistent husband before their child is born. Further, I would love to see centenarian Granny Next finally read the most boring book in the world, which was prophesied she would have to read before she could die. (Nope, it's not Finnegan's Wake: she's tried that one.) So it's going to be another year before I get my next fix.
[Matthew Scott Winslow]