Review

The Well of Lost Plots

by Jasper Fforde

You don't have to have read Jasper Fforde's two previous novels in the Thursday Next series to enjoy his latest, THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS; he kindly provides a plot synopsis. In THE EYRE AFFAIR Fforde introduced his main character, Thursday Next, a literary detective who rescues a kidnapped Jane Eyre and returns her to Emily Bronte's novel. In the follow-up, LOST IN A GOOD BOOK, Thursday teamed with Miss Havisham from GREAT EXPECTATIONS to stop a power-hungry fictional character who had escaped into the real world.

Such few words do little to hint at the dizzying complexities of these two novels --- which involve government and corporate conspiracies, pet dodo birds, time travel and a narrowly averted Dream Topping apocalypse --- so "The Story So Far." section brings both new and faithful readers up to date on what has led Thursday to hide out in the Well of Lost Plots, which is home to half-finished or unpublished novels.

Distraught over the time-eradication of her husband (a villain time-travels to kill him when he is only two years old), hunted by a powerful corporation and sidelined from active duty by her pregnancy, Thursday has taken up residence as a bit player in "a dreary crime thriller set in Reading entitled Caversham Heights," wherein she has minimal obligations to the plot and reluctantly boards two character blanks named ibb and obb. In her sleep she is tormented by a mnemonomorph named Aornis Hades, who can invade and alter her memories. Thursday defeated Aornis's brother Acheron Hades in THE EYRE AFFAIR, and now the villain wants revenge.

While she regroups and tries to protect her memories from Aornis, Thursday works for JurisFiction, which is akin to a literary FBI. Its agents, including a pistol-packing Miss Havisham and an argumentative Beatrice from Dante's INFERNO, keep order in the realm of fiction, ensuring that characters keep to their storylines and reading is not disrupted in the real world.

Part of the fun of this busily plotted, shamelessly exciting and grandly absurd series is following Thursday as she jumps from one book to another, and Fforde has grown bolder in his choices with each novel. THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS is set mostly within unpublished novels --- mostly bad crime and science fiction --- but Thursday manages to escape these unread annals in order to attend ludicrous courtroom proceedings in ALICE IN WONDERLAND, give Enid Blyton's SHADOW THE SHEEPDOG a happy ending and help Miss Havisham lead a therapy group in WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

If Fforde has grown a little more adventurous in his book jumping, he has grown even more imaginative and adventurous in his wordplay. Early in THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS Thursday meets "an untidy man wearing a hat named Wyatt." But "Wyatt is my name," he explains to her, "not the hat's". His disheveled appearance translates into grammatical errors in his textual description --- or vice versa. Either way it's a condition he cannot cure; no matter how hard he tries, he cannot get rid of the dangling participles that describe and define him.

Clever text games such as this continually prevent the reader from completely visualizing the story, which in 2004 flies in the face of trends towards increasingly literal-minded prose and books as stepping-stones to movie deals. Fforde gently subverts this trend by mixing the tactile elements of storytelling with the conceptual, creating a playful metaphysics, a literary version of The Matrix. For instance, one character is attacked by a flock of grammasites, which are word predators, "who reduced the unfortunate wretch to a few explanatory phrases, which were then eaten by scavengers waiting on the sidelines."

In the BookWorld, as in the book itself, characters are nothing more than the words that describe them; they are bound securely to the page. This textual rootedness is no drawback and in fact represents a considerable accomplishment: the story Fforde is telling could only take place in a book, never in a movie or television show. THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS, like its two predecessors, demonstrates how alive and dynamic fiction can be, how a story can change from moment to moment, from one reading to another. To quote Miss Havisham, "Anything is possible in the BookWorld. The only barriers are those of the human imagination."

Reviewed by Stephen M. Deusner on January 24, 2011

The Well of Lost Plots
by Jasper Fforde

  • Publication Date: July 24, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 375 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143034359
  • ISBN-13: 9780143034353