October 4, 2014
Pages: 374 Copyright: 2001
The blurb: “Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.”
My own blurb is five words: hardboiled detective for literature geeks. Oh, and also she’s a woman.
That pretty much sums it up; and yeah, it was about as cool as it sounds. For me, The Eyre Affair wasn’t the kind of book you whip through large sections of at a time, but more one that you read over a long period in short sessions. It wasn’t a page turner, but it was thick with dry humor and subtle intelligent references. (Definitely worth a read for fans of Douglas Adams– it actually had a lot of similarities to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.) A mature thematic backbone of war, grief, and moral crossroads served as the support for an endlessly towering supply of silliness. Characters had goofy names like Victor Analogy, Continued Overleaf, and Jack Schitt. Occasionally Fforde’s love of comedy strained at the limits of the story and overstepped its place (like a gag, in one of the most intense scenes of the book, which led the sentences and words of the story to be peppered with random apostrophes and hyphens. People were negotiating with a madman! People were shooting at each other! I wanted to get into the scene, and tripping over punctuation stumbling blocks was nothing but frustrating.) More often, though, things stayed on the classier side of comedy, and it was my favorite kind of witty.
I loved Thursday. She wasn’t perfect, but she almost always thought rationally and made the best decision available, and I liked that about her. I never had to be frustrated by watching the heroes create unnecessary conflict with their refusal to see reason, thank goodness. That’s a kind of artificial plot building that often turns me off to an entire book. I also liked that at first, Thursday seems to be all steely business, but as you follow her, you suddenly start to see lots of emotions, and as you learn to read her (no pun intended) better and better, you realize that those emotions were there from the beginning. It was a very organic process of getting to know a reserved person.
As for the minor characters, a lot of them started to blend together. For example, Thursday had a lot of bosses at different levels in SpecOps, and I could never really keep them straight. The same goes for the various henchmen of the main villain. The men that Thursday was more fond of were more defined. Maybe we were just seeing Thursday’s perspective; as far as it concerns her, I guess the various bosses and henchmen are fairly interchangeable.
The more you know about literature, the more enjoyable The Eyre Affair will probably be for you. There were many ongoing references to Dickens and Shakespeare, various poets, and of course, the Bröntes. There were also a number of history references/jokes that sort of went over my head. I liked the intellectual atmosphere, though.
The Eyre Affair was very British, very nerdy, and full of heart. It’s worth noting that this was Jasper Fforde’s first published novel; he may not have ironed out all his editing skills yet (not that a writer ever really irons out all their editing skills). But I don’t think there’s any other book out there quite like this one, and I think that alone makes it worth the read.