Lost in a Good Book is the next adventure in the saga of Thursday Next, intrepid literary detective. Fforde takes the reader on another exploration of great literature, but makes it accessible even to the readers who haven't really read any of them. This book is an excellent addition to the mythos. It's a fast-paced romp that will leave you smiling and intrigued at the same time.
Fforde takes the world that he created in The Eyre Affair and adds even more to it. In fact, he creates an entire fictional world beneath the "reality" that Thursday lives in. Characters from literature can travel to the real world, or to other books. An entire infrastructure of literary characters is charged with defending literature against evil-doers. The Jurisfiction organization, centered in the Great Library where every book (even books that only potentially existed) is housed, fights against everything from vicious creatures that eat vocabulary to Bowdlerisers, who travel through fiction trying to eliminate obscenity and profanity from it. In her travels, Thursday becomes the apprentice to Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, a master book-jumper. All of this is in an attempt to learn how to get into "The Raven" and save her husband. Once again, I have to credit Fforde's imagination. There are so many cool concepts in this book that I won't give you any more. It would spoil some of the fun.
Also like the first book, this is a triumph of prose and imagery over character, as most of the characters don't have a lot of depth to them. They are mostly part of the joke, or part of the scenery. Thursday is one exception to this, and Miss Havisham is the other. Havisham is a wonderful character, taking what Dickens created and adding to it. It's very interesting to see Havisham interacting with Pip and Estella as part of the book, and then when the scenes switches to a new chapter and away from her, she becomes even more animated. These characters know that they are characters in a book, they speak their lines and do their bit, and then they go off to live their own life. Every chapter adds more and more to Fforde's world.
One way in which this is different from the first book, however, is that Fforde doesn't concentrate as much in the alternate reality that Thursday lives in. We get an update on how things are going (the Crimean War peace talks, for one thing), but for the most part, everything takes place either in the books themselves, or in the real world but with lots of literary characters bumbling about. For example, Havisham is a hoot when she gets behind the wheel of a car. If you can imagine an 18th century spinster with a lead foot, you will get the picture. It's hilarious to see, and to read about. I constantly found myself marveling at what Fforde was producing, and didn't notice that the characters were kind of plot devices.
However, once again, the writing is wonderful. Fforde has a very smooth style that almost feels literary. It's almost the perfect mix between classic literature and today's fiction. Part of that is helped by the other fictional characters being around (most of them being from classical literature anyway), but a lot of it is the prose itself. The plot is interesting in itself and there are some godawful puns (those are the best kind). Some of the events in the novel seem to come out of left field, but everything ultimately has a good reason for happening, which is nice. A couple of times I groaned at how something was resolved, thinking it looked too much like writer's fiat, but then something else happened that explained exactly why that resolution occurred. Considering how twisty the book can get at times, that's no mean feat.
I greatly enjoyed this novel, though not quite as much as the first. I'm not sure why that is, because it seems just as good as the first one. Maybe I would have liked a little more real-world action. In the first book, I reveled in the scenes like the Rocky Horror Picture Show-style rendition of Richard III. Those sorts of details were missing in this one (though the beginning, when Thursday goes on the talk show, is a complete scream). There were a couple of seemingly useless items. There's no reason that I can see for the mammoths to be around, other than as interesting scenery. In a book that's full of imagery, that's not usually a bad thing, but this time it seemed like they would have a purpose, and then they didn't.
Fforde has shown, yet again, that he is a master at this sort of thing. He uses wonderful language, interesting images, and a great plot. Don't pick up this book for the wonderful characters, though. Fforde concentrates more on making the characters do interesting things than in actually making them interesting themselves. Except for Thursday, of course. She is the ultimate, and I love her to death. You also don't have to be afraid of not having read classic fiction and thus not being able to understand the book. While I'm sure it would be enhanced if you are familiar with it, it's not a necessity to get most of the jokes. All in all, I really felt like I was Lost in a Good Book.