N.B. I flipped through this book and wrote this review way back November 2008. I will slowly be transferring my reviews from a previous blog to here. Slowly means one post at a time whenever I have the time, energy, and mood for it.
I can see why those who love Jasper Fforde’s works love them. Fforde is a playful, imaginative, witty storyteller who evidently loves literature. The Eyre Affair is an entertaining read that can make you smile and at places, laugh out loud. This is the first of a series of novels set in a surreal, literary-themed Great Britain where thousands of citizens named John Milton walk around and hold conventions, where social conflicts involve Shakespeare lovers and haters. Time travel is ordinary, and cheese is contraband. Special Operatives fight crimes against art and literature. It is set against the historical backdrop of the 80s, but any attempt to peg a date will get you messed up because of the futuristic elements in the book. In other words, it’s a Ffordian world that defies logic and timeframe.
Thursday Next is one of those Special Operatives. (For some strange reason, I picture her as Gillian Anderson’s X-Files character, without the dowdy suits, and that’s funny because Anderson’s not even British.) Next battles the diabolical Acheron Hades, he whose name must not be uttered. And the book takes you on an exciting (acid) trip in a psychedelically colorful Porsche through London, Swindon, and Wales, crossing different time periods and even into the pages of books. Operative word is the preposition into. Because they don’t just read the lines of the books but get in between the lines so to speak, really getting into the story and meeting the characters face to face. Wordsworth, for instance, flirts with Thursday’s aunt when she got trapped in his book of poems.
A review I read classifies this book under the genre (breathe in) “science fiction literary detective thriller” (breathe out). Taken singularly, each of those genres does not particularly excite me. Combining them in one book changes my sentiments and preference very little. It's no secret that I’m not fond of fantasy plots. Maybe the child in me is out there playing grown up. Maybe I take life too seriously. (Not.) But only a masterfully written book can make me suspend my disbelief long enough. And this book truly does challenge the suspension of aforementioned disbelief. Some things are just too irritatingly absurd. Riots of Raphaelites versus neo-surrealists?!? And I say with one eyebrow raised, "Come on!" And I think to myself “nerds.” But then again, maybe it’s just me. I don’t get why real life people speak elvin and wear costumes to the cinema to watch LOTR.
I did enjoy certain parts of the book. I loved Uncle Mycroft’s bookworms that spew synonyms and factoids, a combination of google and thesaurus and more. I was bowled over by the vendo-operated Shakespearian character mannequins that discharge soliloquies. I was amused by the characters of Mycroft, Felix 7, and the Japanese tourists. But then, my anti-fantasy bias kicked in soon enough. I just feel that the fantasy genre gives the author too much latitude and too little restraint. But before I convince you all that I’m a realism Nazi, I just have to say that I was totally charmed by the clever way Fforde incorporated his bizarre story with that of Jane Eyre’s. Sheer genius. Wow. I loved how he did that. But not enough to turn into a fantasy fan.
And yes, reading Jane Eyre first does help. It gets you in on the secret.