Volume 23, Number 02, Winter 2005

The Well of Lost Plots

By Jasper Fforde

Viking, 2003
ISBN 0-670-03289-1
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
November, 2005

Jasper Fforde’s The Well of Lost Plots (TWOLP) is the third novel in his Thursday Next literary detective series. Readers who pick up this book as their first foray into the world of Fforde will find the going rough and confusing. Experienced Ffordians will find TWOLP amusing and inventive, adding new layers to an already unique world.

Following on the heels of The Eyre Affair (2001) and Lost in a Good Book (2002), TWOLP finds Next hiding inside a book on a character exchange program. Next’s book-jumping skills first surfaced in The Eyre Affair, a wonderfully humorous first novel. Fforde added to this alternate world in the sequel, Lost in a Good Book, where Next moved deeper into the realities of fiction. She joined Jurisfiction, which polices the BookWorld. TWOLP delves further into the alternate reality of BookWorld, where literary characters are real and operate with motives that sometimes deviate from the expectations of the books’ readers.

There’s little here that directly deals with liberty except for the meandering quest to discover who’s killing fictional characters and threatening Next’s life in BookWorld. Throughout this investigation Next uncovers a possible link behind the upgrade to the next Book Operating System to UltraWord™.

Billed as a solution to the demise of original fiction by adding a new sensory literary experience, UltraWord™ is revealed instead as “the power to change everything” in fiction. As the architect of this idea states, “I get one hundred percent control—No more Well of Lost Plots, no more Generics, no more Council, no more strikes by disgruntled nursery rhyme workers—No more authors.” And Next’s analysis of this? Why, the quality of the books will suffer. Art will vanish, and look no different from a paint factory or manufactured goods.

Yet is this a battle cry for liberty? In some ways, yes. Thursday Next seems to chafe under the constraints of fiction. She alters book-endings and encourages independent thinking among fictional characters.

The Well of Lost Plots weaves a wonderful story along with meta-fictional commentary on how novels are created, progress, and die. Puns and analogies to real-world details abound. The pace often meanders and seems agonizingly slow. As series, there is a great deal of potential in the world of Thursday Next, which mixes fiction and reality (inside a work of fiction in itself) with wild abandon. However, few readers will grasp the fullness of Fforde’s world if they first arrive with this book as its introduction. One should read The Eyre Affair first, which stands as a remarkably fresh work of fiction.

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