Jasper Fforde – The Eyre Affair

jasperfforde-theeyreaffairMeet Thursday Next, literary detective without equal, fear or boyfriend.

There is another 1985, where London’s criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave’s Mr Big.

Acheron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing.

Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn’t easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Perhaps today just isn’t going to be Thursday’s day. Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out for yourself. Fiction will never be the same again . . .

Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair is the kick-off title for the Hodderscape Review Project. Their mascot is named for Thursday’s dodo Pickwick, so couldn’t be anything but The Eyre Affair, really. It was actually a reread for me, as I’d read the book over a decade ago. And what a difference ten years makes. While I loved the book the first time I read it, this time around I got a lot more out of it. I caught lots more of the references – Millon De Floss to name but one – though I still needed the notes from Jasper Fforde’s website to get some of the more obscure ones. If you’re not a Brit they really are quite helpful.   

The premise of Fforde’s book is awesome—crime-fighting book sleuths, what’s not exciting about that? Seriously, I’d love to visit some of my favourite books in the way Thursday visits Jane Eyre. Of course, it’s not just the LiteraTecs that are a great invention, it’s the entirety of Fforde’s alternate history Britain, where the Crimean War still rages and where Wales has revolted and separated itself from the kingdom. The setup of the Special Operations Network, with its different divisions and secretive nature is a delightful riff of MI-5, MI-6, James Bond and anything spy. The different departments get progressively wackier and the SpecOps credo “Below the eighth, above the law” rather says it all. While there is a lot of wackiness to the word-building, it’s all well thought-through and in the case of for example the time-travelling SO-12, there are perhaps some events that might go against all the accepted time travel rules, creating time travel paradoxes and other strange phenomena, but they are presented with such a big wink that they are clearly inserted deliberately, instead of accidentally.

Thursday, her friends, and her enemies are a wonderful collection of characters. Thursday is funny and dry and very, very likeable. Even though The Eyre Affair is a funny book and is meant to be such, there is always a tear behind the comedy and Thursday is no exception. Her background as a war veteran and her continuing trauma for her wartime experiences and the loss of her brother are dark as can be and the development of this particular storyline was interesting. Both her partner, Bowden Cable, and the vampire and werewolf hunter, Spike Stoker, are cool and Jack Schitt and Acheron Hades are your not-quite stereotypical evil, evil men with the appropriate megalomaniac personalities.

The plot of the novel is actually quite straight forward, what makes this book different is its humour and the sheer exuberance of its characters and world. There are many different forms of humour in the book: puns, satire, slapstick, in-jokes, contextual jokes, word games etc. Especially for the latter ones the annotations are useful as some of them are truly terribly British and went right over my head. The jokes and humour can feel somewhat over the top at times, but I dare you to read this book without cracking a smile. I personally adored all the literary jokes, with the Baconians, the Tom Fielding trading cards, Shakespearian Will-Speak machines, which are vending machines with mannequins in them that quote Shakespeare, much like the fortune-telling dummies of yore, to name but a few. If catching these references and jokes isn’t really your thing, you might not enjoy this book though. Fforde manages to make the text clever and laugh at that fact at the same time; the book doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I loved getting reacquainted with Thursday and while I never read beyond The Well of Lost Plots, the third book in the series, I think one of these days I really ought to get round to reading the entire series, because rereading The Eyre Affair was just too much fun. If you’re looking for a whimsical, humorous, fun read with bonus dodo’s, Dickens, and daffodils, then The Eyre Affair is just the ticket. But for my fellow non-Brits, I highly recommend keeping the Reference Notes provided on the author’s website handy while reading.

This book was provided for review by the Hodderscape team as part of the Hodderscape Review Project.

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  • Agreed; The Eyre Affair was a delight to read, though many of the literary references were lost on me (just shows how much more I have to read!)

    • Some of the references are generational too, I think. Just as there are references non-Brits won’t get, there are plenty of references younger readers won’t get either, however well-read they are.