Book Review: The Eyre Affair

Book Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair

As soon as I read the cover blurb for The Eyre Affair, I knew I was a goner. From The Wall Street Journal:

Filled with clever wordplay, literary allusion and bibliowit, The Eyre Affair combines elements of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But its quirky charm is all its own.

I mean, come on! Was this book written just for me?

What’s it all about? I’ll borrow the Goodreads synopsis:

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.

In the world of Thursday Next, the hush-hush web of government intelligence includes SO-27, the branch of Special Operations focusing on Literary Detection. As a LiteraTec, Agent Next tracks down all sorts of nefarious literary criminals, but none so heinous as the mysterious mastermind who literally rewrites the world of fiction by altering original manuscripts. Add to the mix a Crimean War that’s raged for 150 years, Next’s ChronoGuard father who pops in and out whenever he’d like (usually with a history-changing agenda or two — like, say, the invention of the banana), a powerful corporation named Goliath that runs, well, everything, and a strange device called a Prose Portal that may be the key to finally winning the war… and you have a delightfully bizarre novel that plays with words and books in the strangest, twistiest of ways.

The glory is truly in the details. On a rare day off, Thursday attends the weekly performance of Richard III — which is this world’s stand-in for Rocky Horror. In a truly amazing sequence, we’re treated to the spectacle of full-on audience participation, including the donning of sunglasses, stamping and barking, and a wild battle scene in the aisles and entryway of the theater.

The whole audience erupted in unison:

“When is the winter of our discontent?”

“Now,” replied Richard with a cruel smile, “is the winter of our discontent…”

The Eyre Affair is filled with so many adorable details, it’s impossible to capture even a smidgen. Coin-operated mechanical devices on street corners recite verses of Shakespeare on demand. Taking an unpopular stance on the “who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays?” debate can lose you friends and has been known to start riots. Characters names include Victor Analogy, Braxton Hicks, Jack Schitt, and Acheron Hades. Guess who the bad guys are?

Possibly the only note that rang false for me in this book is the introduction of vampires and werewolves (in a chapter aptly titled “Spec-Ops 17: Suckers & Biters”. I mean, sure, in a novel in which bad performances of Shakespeare carry fines and John Milton conventions are commonplace, why not? Still, this piece of the story seems unnecessary and a bit out of place. While handled with humor, the inclusion of these over-used supernatural creatures is a clunky touch and is not in keeping with the overall off-beat originality of the storyline.

I leave you with the brief explanation provided for the department vacancy offered to Thursday:

Your post was held by Jim Crometty. He was shot dead in the old town during a bookbuy that went wrong.

How can you not love a book in which all of society is crazy about books? Where people from around the globe make pilgrimage to see the Jane Eyre manuscript? The Eyre Affair is silly, quirky, and an absolute delight.

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