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WesternSFA
The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots
by Jasper Fforde
Penguin, $16, 400pp
Release Date: February 25, 2003

These, the first three books in the extraordinary trans-genre Thursday Next series, are sometimes classified as Science Fiction/Fantasy, but might just as easily labeled Mystery or Fiction. One advantage of downloading e-books, you don’t have to wander around stacks, hoping you guessed right. Plus, you can Search key words so easily! On the other hand, bookstores, new or used, have a charm of their own, and present their own opportunities for discovery. However you find these, you are in for the literary time of your life.

Thursday Next is the unlikely name of a most likeable heroine, whose father is a time-traveller pursuing a hypothesis that the deaths of Harold at Hastings, Nelson at Trafalgar, and Wellington at Waterloo are the work of French revisionists. Thursday works for the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network in London , tracking down plagiarists, peddlers of Shakespeare’s lost plays, book thieves, and the likes. She has a reverse extinction regenerated pet dodo bird, named Pickwick, and she gets involved with the living characters of fiction when Jane Eyre goes missing. Acheron Hades is kidnapping famous icons and holding them for ransom, but rescuing them and returning them won’t be enough – it turns out that characters have opinions of their own, not to mention moods, and they want some changes made.

After a happy quasi-ending in the first book, Thursday re-enters the literary realms on a quest to save the life of someone who has been ‘eradicated.’ She becomes an apprentice to Miss Havisham, with a surreal visit to Kafka’s The Trial as part of her training.

In the third, a pregnant Thursday is hiding out from enemies in the basement of the Great Library, which has 26 floors above ground, one for each of the letters in the English language, for all published fiction, and 26 mirror image floors for all unpublished fiction – and below that, the Text Sea . She takes an interest in the fate of characters doomed to recycling if their book goes unpublished, and helps Generics develop personality, starting with sarcasm and insults. Dangers abound, and Thursday’s life is repeatedly threatened by villains, plot twists, giant talking cats, and voracious Verbisoids, who devour gerunds and regular verbs, but are frightened off by unambiguous irregulars. Her greatest struggle is, perniciously, going on in her own mind, where Aornis, a mnemono-morph, is altering Thursday’s memories in an insidious attempt to sabotage her.

Hundreds of characters from fiction make appearances: the Cheshire Cat, the Library’s custodian; Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, who campaigns to get hedge-pigs incorporated into works of fiction; Hamlet, Painted Jaguar and his gracious Mother, Austen heroines, brooding anti-heroes, mythical creatures, including the Minotaur and a Houyhnhnm from Gulliver’s Travels, the three Weird Sisters, still making prophesies, and scores of detectives, from Chesterton’s Father Brown to the as-yet-unpublished Jack Spratt. Miss Havisham, by the by, is a speed demon who lives to best Mr. Toad, and the two of them are forever sneaking into the real world to race their specially modified classic cars.

The story lines are intricate and intriguing; the original characters hold their own with the heavyweights. Commentaries on literary conventions kept me laughing throughout, while the action kept me riveted. These books are first-rate Fun.

If you know anyone suffering from winter blahs or general doldrums, try making a gift of these. Laughter is still the best medicine. And look for an edition with a photo of the author on the cover; it’s worth the extra effort. Without knowing Mr. Fforde’s marital status, I would think that husband-hunting, book-loving females would be swarming all over Wales if he is at all representative of what is to be found there. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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