Wednesday, March 09, 2005

11. Lost in a Good Book

by Jasper Fforde

There’s a bar downtown called Sugar. With its location at Clark and Kinzie, its honeycomb themed interior, and the pulsing beats that can be heard from the curb, it kind of ends up being a meat market. It’s a place where people put on their cologne, heels, and makeup and try to take someone home with them. Actually, it’s not quite that bad as there are people not interested in finding a lay for the night. I mean, I go there. Sugar’s main attraction is not just that it’s another expensive downtown hot spot, it’s also a dessert bar with decadent and creative sweets to entice the palate. It’s not just a dessert bar, either. It’s a dessert bar whose menu describes each selection with the greatest attention to literary detail. The first time I was there I had the “Tart of Darkness,” an apple tart with crumb topping and rosemary ice cream. I’ve since enjoyed the “Macdeath by Chocolate,” the “Interpretation of Creams,” and “Les Flourless de Mal,” to name a few.

All of this goes to say that the reason I really like this bar is not because it’s trendy or because it has desserts, but because I so love trying to figure out the literary references in the menu. Most of them I’ve got down, but as the menu changes there are always a couple that I can’t seem to place. It’s the book nerd in me that keeps coming back. Reading a Thursday Next novel is kind of like that. It’s not the most high class of reads, but it’s chock full of literary allusions and half of the fun is figuring out what they are.

If you’ve never read Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next, the stories revolve around a literary detective by that name. In The Eyre Affair, the first in the series, Thursday must jump into novels using the Prose Portal to protect Jane Eyre from being taken from her story. With this done and the villain appropriately banished to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” the ending of Jane Eyre has been changed forever; it’s Thursday who brings Jane and Rochester together for the conclusion we all know. In Lost in a Good Book, Thursday is under fire for her previous adventures and must learn to bookjump using only her mind. This time, it’s not just the posterity of books at stake, it’s also her husband who has been eradicated from all existence save for her memories. Learning to get inside those books might just bring him back.

I am such a geek when it comes to spotting literary references. It’s like the scene in Swingers when they walk out all Reservoir Dogs-style and you get excited because you recognize what they’re doing, only much, you know, geekier. I loved that the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen made appearances in the story. Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, is Thursday’s mentor in the book jumping arts. Officer “Spike” Stoker, of the first book’s Vampire and Werewolf Disposal Operation, makes a repeat appearance. Thursday’s grandmother must read the ten most boring classics before she is allowed to die, which makes for an amusing guess of what those ten might be. And Thursday even manages to bring back batteries to Marianne Dashwood, though who knows for what purpose.

I needed a palate cleanser after being bogged down in The Ground Beneath Her Feet for so long. Something quick and lively, something mostly entertainment, and that’s what made this book a good choice. I know there was some disappointment when The Eyre Affair came out, but I liked it. It wasn’t the best written book and it wasn’t the most insightful book, but it was entertaining and clever and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Lost in a Good Book was the same. Like Sugar, it’s your typical adventure and the ending is what you make of it. But, like the desserts at Sugar, it’s also a good taste with a literary kick. That’s something I’ll never be able to turn down.

Stars: Three

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