Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review - Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair: Thursday Next Novel the 1st by Jasper Fforde
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: January 28th, 2002 US, July 19th, 2001 UK
Format: Hardcover, 374 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

In a world similar to our own, but not quite, books are revered with a fanatical devotion, Dodo's are a common re-engineered pet, the Goliath Corporation covertly controls most of England, cheese is exorbitantly taxed and the Crimean War still rages on. The Special Operations Network, dealing with the unusual, takes care of what is deemed too bizarre for the regular PC plods. There are 30 departments, the functions of most departments being shrouded in mystery. Our heroine, Thursday Next, works for SO-27, the Literary Detectives, who police everything from forgeries to theft, all within the parameters of books. And in a society devoted to the written word, it's a demanding job. We join Thursday as she's heading out to Gad's Hill, the home of Charles Dickens, where, despite extreme security measures, the manuscript for Martin Cuzzlewit has disappeared, yet again. Only there is just one man who could have pulled off this crime, neither appearing on camera or setting off securing alarms... Acheron Hades, a man who can lie in deed, thought and action. He doesn't appear on film, he can hear anytime his name is spoken within a certain distance and he and Thursday have a history. Of course the history is more her turning him down when he was her professor then anything lurid... but this is a first, someone who can say no to Hades and knows what he looks like. But the question everyone is asking themselves is, why does Hades want this book?

Thursday is approached by SO-5 to help in their apprehension of Hades. What happens is a fiasco. All the Special Op agents are killed, except Thursday, who was saved by someone matching the description of Rochester from Jane Eyre. But a fictional character saving her life is not the biggest concern when she faces questions from SO-1, internal affairs, and a future version of herself appears to her and tell her to transfer to a LiteraTec job in Swindon. She listens to herself and heads to Swindon, even if the job is technically a demotion and she's avoided the town since a) she grew up there b) her family still lives there and c) Landon. Her family is complicated, seeing as technically her father doesn't exist because he's been written out of time. A Chronogaurd in SO-12 he jumps back and forth in time and when he went rogue he was eliminated, but somehow he still had three children and shows up every morning for breakfast. Her Uncle Mycroft and her Aunt Polly live with her mother, where Mycroft has made some of the most fascinating inventions, even a portal into the written word! But the complications of family are nothing to Landen. The man she fell in love with while serving in the Crimea, the man she was to marry, the man she left when he sullied her dead brother Anton's memory saying that he caused one of the worst fiascoes in the history of the Crimea.

Of course Landon will have to wait when Mycroft, Polly and Mycroft's Prose Portal are kidnapped by none other than Acheron Hades. Seeing as he now has the Cuzzlewit manuscript and a way into said manuscript... things are not looking good. Everyone's suspicions are confirmed when one of the minor characters, Mr. Quaverly, turns up in a trunk in Swindon, permanently excised from the book. But even after Spec Ops and Goliath try to trick Hades, Martin Cuzzlewit seems safe... of course they didn't count on Mycroft destroying the original manuscript to save the book. The lack of his ransom and the betrayal of Mycroft leads Hades to his most heinous crime yet... he kidnaps Jane Eyre. One of the most beloved books of all time, Jane Eyre, without Jane's first person narration ends abruptly once Jane is gone. It's up to Thursday to save her family, get her man, end a war, save a classic and perhaps get happy endings for everyone.

This book is written for bookworms who have read all the classics and will get all the little jokes and asides. The parallel world Fforde has created is beyond fascinating. The devotion of this world to the written word makes rock stars out of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, which I heartily applaud. While it takes awhile to get used to the small differences that ended up creating major differences in our timelines, many of which are played for laughs, it's the moments within the literature itself that shines. As for the bureaucracy, politics and technology, I find it diverting, but not integral. From the short passages with Polly trapped within Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud", to Thursday's prolonged sojourn within Jane Eyre, it's the books within the book that I adore. Ironically the first time I read this book I had not yet read Jane Eyre, a fact which has since been rectified. But the fact then remains that it was actually Fforde and his interpretation of Jane Eyre that became my first introduction to the classic. Of course I'd seen all the adaptations so I knew what the plot was and was able to appreciate the fact that in Thursday's world the ending of the book is wrong, what with Jane going off to India with her cousin. But it was Fforde's description of this world, his representation of Rochester as a heroic and self-sacrificing man that I then took with me back to the original. So in a way, my introduction to one of the most famous literary figures in history came about in a very Nextian way... watch an adaptation, read a book about the characters taken out of context, then read the original. But the thing that kept me reading late into the night is that once Thursday is ensconced at Thornfield, it's the waiting, the knowing that somehow she will right the book to end it like it does in our world that keeps the pages turning. How will she rectify the wrong? Because this is one of the greatest love stories ever told and it can't end like it did!

Though there is one detraction for me. It's the believability of this frenetic society. I know it's absurd and funny as all get out, but could a society really retain this frenzy over this prolonged a period. With the way our attention spans flit from one thing to the next could people's devotion to Shakespeare really last as long as it has? Would people truthfully be changing their names to emulate authors and characters in books? Again, I get the satire, but it's the underlying human nature that I partially question. Of course I am like the characters, I do possess these fanatic tendencies, but I don't think the public as a whole could retain it for such a long period. The Rocky Horror Picture Show nature of the Richard III performances with the audience members being the actors and then also participating in an elaborate call and response routine seems to me fun, but not able to last as long as it supposedly does. Even The Rocky Horror Picture Show couldn't sustain my local theater to stay open, and I know Shakespeare is in an entirely different ballpark, but still... don't get me wrong, I love this book and would love to visit this world, but I have some quibbles, not enough to ever put the book down or to stop me from foisting it one others... but still...


You expressed exactly what I was thinking about the fanaticism for literature in Thursday's world - it just seemed too fantastic. I also loved the Richard III show - I'd actually go to something like that.

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