I bought this for mainly for my mom, who likes mystery novels, but also thinking that it might be kind of a nerdy take on the genre, maybe a step up intellectually from my usual guilty pleasures of Janet Evanovich and Dick Francis (though I must say, the Stephanie Plum series has seriously dropped in quality from its early days. Are you listening Janet? What happened? Also, while we're on the subject, you can't call Stephanie chunky and then tell me she weighs a buck thirty five. Quit reenforcing negative body image stereotypes.). Uh... where were we? Right. So the strange thing about this book is that it is kind of fun and interesting, but man, it's SO badly written. I'll probably get hateful anonymous comments for this (there's been an increase in those lately. I think the troubled economy is making people grumpy.), but Fforde writes like a somewhat talented high school student. There are some good ideas, but the prose is jarringly amateurish and quite grating. The characters are horribly flat and cliche. Also, as is typical in works that feature time travel, there are aspects of the plot that don't quite make sense. But the ideas are so strikingly odd and original that you sort of go along with it anyhow.
The novel is set in an alternative past, a kind of strange sci-fi conceit really - rather than an alternate future, it's an alternate version of our world set about 20 years ago. Why or how things ended up working out differently is never stated, but that's kind of neat. The main differences seem to be that time travel is possible, that England and Russia have been at war for a very long time (a kind of irritating sub-plot that I suppose is meant to add pathos and serve as not at all subtle political commentary), and that literature is much, much more important to everyday life. The main drama of the work ends up turning on a strange issue whereby the lines of fiction and reality are blurred, allowing people to travel into novels, and characters from them to intervene in real life. This rapidly turns into a logical consistency catastrophe, but it's chalk full of dorky literary references (which goddamn it, I'm a sucker for), and it's so strange that you can't help but follow along to see what happens, even if you do find yourself annoyed by how clumsily it's done.
But what can I say? I sort of enjoyed it. I can't really unabashedly recommend it, but there are definitely worse things to do with your time.