April 21, 2004

Lost in a Good Book, a review

Iíve been in a light reading mood lately. So I picked up Jasper Ffordeís sequel to The Eyre Affair at the library and dove in. So to speak. No actual book portal was involved. I merely read Lost In A Good Book, I didnít experience it.

And in a way that was the problem. It was a fun read, just like the first one. And just as shallow. Fforde isnít trying for rich characterization here, nor is he aiming for emotional resonance or even thematic thoughtfulness. Heís just going for clever with a dollop of satire. The corporate mentality he portrays in this parallel earth and the ubiquity of the lowest form of pop culture, itís clearly a barbed description of some of the worst aspects of modern society but it feels heavy handed and makes me squeamish. Aside from that, though, I delight in Ffordeís imagination: the details of his wild world, with a time traveling father on the run from his branch of the government and a pet cloned dodo (model 1.2, very rare) and delightful secondary characters like Spike Stoker whose government job is eradicating mythological creatures like vampires and werewolves and who therefore has a hell of a time getting girlfriends to stick around once he reveals his line of work to them.

All of which of course is just background for the main storyline about Thursday Next, the agent who jumped into Jane Eyre and inadvertently changed the ending. In the sequel, she discovers a whole world of book operatives, most of whom are fictional characters who step outside their own fictional worlds to fix other books. This is a lot of fun just as it was in Ffordeís first novel, glimpsing the characters when theyíre off duty from the story, so to speak. The behind-the-scenes fix-it stuff works well in both the material world and the world of books, and is the most amusing part of the worlds Fforde creates. The problem, though, is that he doesnít really have much of a story. If you donít focus on character or theme, all you have is plot. In which case, that plot better damned well be good. Which this wasnít. There were three or maybe four plot threads, most of which never (or barely) met up, some of which never got resolved (I smell sequelitis), some of which just got resolved through last minute dues ex machina interventions.

Sometimes Iím in the mood for texture and depth. Sometimes, I admit without shame, I prefer something less challenging. Shallow is fine and yes, even silly is good. But I always want to put the book down and feel like I read a coherent piece of fiction someone cared to think through while writing it, that amounted to more than mere sleight of hand. Lost in a Good Book is a cotton candy book. Sweet air. Not terribly satisfying though it does make you smile from time to time. It feels like a near miss. If Fforde had pulled the plot threads together, if heíd worked a little harder at structure and even, yes, theme, he might have had something wonderfully frothy. Heís clearly got the chops; heís bright and witty and can create a unique world. But I donít want cotton candy. If Iím in the mood for dessert, Iíd rather go for chocolate or custard, something more substantial, something I can sink my teeth into.

On to the next book. This oneís already back at the library.

Posted by Tamar at April 21, 2004 10:39 PM