Any intersection between Fforde’s novels and a recognizably real world are almost entirely coincidental, for he’s most at home in constructing insouciant (and elaborate) literary fantasies.
Thursday Next, the protagonist of many of the author's previous novels, is back…or rather, she’s not, for she’s the missing girl of the title. And although she vanishes, the written Thursday Next does not. The plot involves the search for the “real” Thursday Next, when she disappears a week before peace talks preceding the possible outbreak of a genre war, so the written Thursday Next sets out to find her. (Yes, it’s all a bit confusing, and Fforde has great fun ringing changes on this confusion.) Written Thursday Next is on the case, exploring the various byways of BookWorld and eventually going up the mighty Metaphoric River, with its echoes of Conrad. Of course, in Fforde’s fictive world almost everything has some kind of literary echo: Cabbies take the written Thursday to Norland Park (from Sense and Sensibility); she meets Jay Gatsby’s less famous brother, the Loser Gatsby (younger sibling to the Mediocre Gatsby); she learns that Heathcliff is riding the same train she is (and notes “a lot of screaming and fainting girls on the platform whenever we stopped”); has drinks at the Bar Humbug; and comes across signs like “Do Not Feed the Ambiguity.” Fforde, of course, finds all of this highly diverting and even includes sly references to The Eyre Affair, an earlier Thursday Next novel. To appreciate Fforde, it’s both helpful and essential for a reader to have a substantial literary background. While some of the gags are sly and work well (for example, the confusion about whether a character named Red Herring is actually a red herring), others are rather forced and seem to exist solely for the sake of a punch line (“I think we’ve driven into a mimefield”).
Your appreciation of Fforde will depend solely on your tolerance for self-conscious, and occasionally slick, literary cleverness.