Themes Explored: fantasy, libraries, magic, time travel, books, love, father-daughter relationships, work-life relationships, meta fiction
Synopsis: Great Britain circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality, and literature is taken very, very seriously. Baconians are trying to convince the world that Francis Bacon really wrote Shakespeare, there are riots between the Surrealists and Impressionists, and thousands of men are named John Milton. Amidst all this, Acheron Hades, Third Most Wanted Man In the World, steals the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit and kills a minor character, who then disappears from every volume of the novel ever printed!
Hades’ real target is the beloved Jane Eyre, and it’s not long before he plucks her from the pages of Bronte’s novel. Enter Thursday Next. She’s the Special Operative’s renowned literary detective, and she drives a Porsche. With the help of her uncle Mycroft’s Prose Portal, Thursday enters the novel to rescue Jane Eyre from this heinous act of literary homicide. It’s tricky business, all these interlopers running about Thornfield, and deceptions run rampant as their paths cross with Jane, Rochester, and Miss Fairfax. Can Thursday save Jane Eyre and Bronte’s masterpiece? And what of the Crimean War? Will it ever end? And what about those annoying black holes that pop up now and again, sucking things into time-space voids . . .(Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: As with all authors, Jasper Fforde gleefully filched themes and cultural references from movies, television shows and other books. Shady government agents battle vampiric antagonists, shape-shifters, and an assortment of other supernatural phenomena. People are able to transport themselves into their favorite novels and fictional creations are able to escape. All of this leads to a series of high voltage high jinks proliferated with good-natured literary excitement.
While the year is 1985 and the location is Britain, this world exists in an alternate time line distinctly different yet highly similar to our own reality. Russia has been waging war with Crimea for approximately 130 years. A military-industrial institution called the Goliath Corporation runs England as a kind of shadow government. Scientists have resurrected extinct animals, which have become popular pets. The dodo is the new dog. And everyone’s main obsession is literature.
Deeply passionate and costume-attired fans attend “Rocky Horror Show”-esque performances of Shakespeare’s ”Richard III.” Meanwhile, a never ending debate about the “real identify” of Shakespeare exists in all layers of society. You are either pro Francis Bacon or you are an ignoramus. Riots break out among neo-Surrealists every year to celebrate the anniversary of the legalization of Surrealism. Fortunes rise and fall with the forgery of famous authors/artists’ works.
Following the normal lines of society, for every good person trying to make a living through forgery, their is always someone out there ruining the black market for everyone. Enter the good guys who monitor literary crimes. This group of literary detectives are known as the LiteraTecs, one of whom is the heroine: Thursday Next.
Facing the long arm of middle age and estranged from the only man she has ever loved, Thursday is Bridget Jones, Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes all wrapped up into one neurotic and sassy personality. Thursday is a former member of the elite SpecOps-5 squad, with a license to kill she possess few scruples about shooting first. When it comes to her arch-nemesis, the depraved Acheron Hades, a former English professor turned all-star criminal, Thursday plans to shoot first and ask questions never. Hades is the ultimate antagonist, a man so villainous that ”he can lie in thought, deed, action and appearance.” Hades, who has 42 confirmed kills, can morph into other people, is impervious to bullets, and capable of brainwashing adversaries by stealing their free will.
Hades is the mastermind behind the theft of a valuable copy of Dickens’s ”Martin Chuzzlewit,” and the abduction of Thursday’s uncle Mycroft, the inventor of the Prose Portal, which offers people the opportunity to “download” themselves into the pages of a novel. The Goliath Corporation lusts after the Prose Portal and desire to use it as a way to gain the upper hand in the Crimean War. Whereas Hades wants to use the Portal to murder certain literary characters he finds vexing.
By the start of the novel, Hades has brutally killed a minor character from ”Martin Chuzzlewit,” and intends to target bigger characters if huge ransoms are not paid by devoted literature fans. When he succeeds in stealing the original manuscript of ”Jane Eyre,” it falls to Thursday to thwart Hades plans for the hero and heroine of her beloved favorite novel.
Initially Hades and the rest of the minor cast of ”The Eyre Affair” are all caricatures, a cross between the good and bad guys from Saturday cartoons and the background characters from a Dickens novel, they eventually mature into useful foils to Thursday. Her personality seems to perpetually veer between a cynical yuppie and gun-packing Clint Eastwood/Bruce Willis impersonator. Nothing strikes fear in the heart of nefarious villains like a well dressed, wise cracking, cynical detective.
Narration wise, the story starts out slow but gains steam and interest shortly after the fourth chapter. The whimsy in the early chapters gradually fades into some clever invention. Be warned, the literary jokes run the gamut from bad puns to postmodern capers. Voracious readers will should the subtle references to famous characters and authors woven into the story arc.
While a stronger editor could have helped trim down some of the more heavy handed padding, by the end of the novel, Fforde crafted his own inventive and exuberant universe. Overall, I enjoyed this rather unique celebration and satire of literature and its overly enthusiastic fans.
The Eyre Affair, 2003, Penguin Books, ISBN 9780142001806