The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Series: Thursday Next
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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Great Britain circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), 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, an homage to the real Milton and a very confusing situation for the police. 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! But that’s just a prelude . . .
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 . . .
This is such a wacky, eclectic book! It’s really hard to give an impression of it, just because there are so many different things going on, and such a variety of vibes. But I think that’s the main thing about what makes The Eyre Affair such a great book.
So this book is set in an alternate-history England where the Crimean War (which started mid-late 1800s) never ended, time travel and cloning have been made possible, airships are the preferred form of transportation, and there might be a touch of magic. The aesthetic/feel are a mix of steampunk, retro-futurism, and urban fantasy. But there’s a dystopian element as well, as England is operating in a near-police-state, and a massive weapons manufacturer is maybe running the government. It’s very all over the place in the most enchanting way possible.
My absolute favorite thing about this world is that instead of movies or TV, people are COMPLETELY OBSESSED with classic literature, especially classic English literature, and (to a lesser extent) art . So much so that there is rioting in the streets over whether impressionism should be legal. Religions have formed over who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Forgeries of original manuscripts or first editions of novels are the crimes of mafias, and too freely interpreted acting can land you in jail. It’s this sense of literary fondness (without taking itself too seriously) that makes this one of my favorite books about books.
Thursday is a riot for a main character. She’s a total badass who excels at one liners and in-action banter. But she also has nice growth and development. She’s a veteran of the war and won a medal of honor in the worst battle of the generation, a battle in which she also lost her brother. She’s dealing with PTSD but is too tough to talk about it, and despite the fact that she has clear feelings about the war refuses to speak out. Over the course of the novel she learns to work with others and to trust her own judgement and feelings. While still being completely full of snark.
I’ll be honest with you all. Upon re-reading this book I was a little disappointed with how little of the novel deals with Jane Eyre. There’s a lot of build up and character-driven stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it was fascinating and I loved every second of it, but I could have used more of the actual plot and fewer side-quests.
Fforde is funny, but this is definitely a darker comedy. It’s also more of a British comedy. So this isn’t going to be like reading an episode of Friends. But the comedy is smart, it’s fresh, and it’s unique. I love this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to book lovers. I’m so glad I finally got to re-read it!