The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Penguin, 15th printing, 2003
Genre: fantasy, pop lit
Synopsis & Review: In a 1985 very different from the one we remember, Great Britain and Tsarist Russia still battle over the Crimea, and time travel and cloning are commonplace, but people travel by airship, a young woman named Thursday Next works for the SO-27, the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network. She and her fellows work to save and protect literature from forgery and vandalism, performing an essential service in a world where literature isn’t simply pop culture, it’s all consuming. Due to her familiarity with the world’s third most wanted criminal, one Archeron Hades, Thursday joins an operation investigating his involvement with the theft of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. From that botched operation to the theft of Jane Eyre and the kidnapping of Thursday’s Uncle Mycroft along with his Prose Portal, Thursday must work quickly to prevent the destruction of Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece.
I avoided reading The Eyre Affair for a while, convinced that it would be too precious and that I wouldn’t enjoy it. Well, I was half right.
I loved the conceit in this, an alternate history in which literature is beloved pop culture, and people obsess over books constantly. The notion that a sudden change in a beloved literary classic would be immediately noticed and subject to urgent phone calls is delightful. But it is a very imperfect novel, self-conscious, with too many flat characters and improbable (yes, even in this topsy-turvy world) happenings. Thursday herself is an engaging protagonist, but most other characters—particularly those who are most significant—are two-dimensional at best. Bowdon Cable, Thursday’s partner, is one of the few fleshed out individuals, making the tacked-on romance with the terminally uninteresting Landen Parke-Laine even more inexplicable.
At times, the jokes got wearisome, and some were decidedly unfunny (Jack Schitt? Maybe for a walkon.). That being said, I enjoyed it enormously, picking it up one evening and finishing it by the next. I did laugh out loud several times, and particularly enjoyed the dodos (I have always had a peculiar affection for those odd little beasts) and the Richard III/Rocky Horror Picture Show performance. The prose is very basic, giving it a pulpy feel, and the mystery nonexistent, making it kind of a terrible detective novel. And there were several plot points left completely unexplained. But for all that, The Eyre Affair has its charms, and I shall probably try the sequel on the chance that Fforde improves.
An amusing light read, fun for those who enjoy literary jokes and references. One major caveat is a questionable understanding of Jane Eyre and Rochester’s relationship, and the treatment of their characters.
Cover: I really hate it. I know, key unlocking a novel/literature, it’s all very relevant. But so ugly. And cluttered—look at all that crap!
From subsequent readings of the book I was later to realize that the dog Pilot had never had the opportunity to fetch a stick, his appearances in the book being all too few, so he was obviously keen to take the opportunity when it presented itself. He must have know, almost instinctively, that the little girl who had momentarily appeared at the bottom of page eighty-one was unfettered by the rigidity of the narrative. He knew that he could stretch the boundaries of the story a small amount, sniffling along one side of the lane or the other since it wasn’t specified; but if the text stated that he had to bark or run around or jump up, then he was obliged to comply. It was a long and repetitive existence, which made the rare appearances of people like me that much more enjoyable.
26 July – 27 July