Saturday, July 17, 2010
The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel
by Jason Fforde
This is a book that is very hard to categorize. Part sci fi, part mystery, part literary satire, part alternative history, part fantasy but all fun! Suspend belief and travel to 1985 Britain where the English continue the Crimean War with Russia, Wales is a socialist republic and the citizenry are mad for literature. Characters that can suspend time and travel back and forth are common. Some science is far advanced (cloned dodos as house pets) while other aspects are not well evolved (blimps are the primary means of air travel). Witty wordplay and colorful characters abound.
The heroine of the novel is Thursday Next (character names are a hoot). She is a literary sleuth who works for a government police agency that specializes in literary crimes from the most common such as plagiarism right up to the theft of original literary works. Her adversary is Archeron Hades a villain who has stolen the original work of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit. When he kills a minor character in the novel, a deed that erases this character from the work forever, the plot is on! Before you know it, not only are minor characters in danger but Jane Eyre herself is threatened! I will not even make an attempt to summarize this plot as it will sound ridiculous in an abridged form but each page holds its own delights. This novel will charm English majors with the satire aimed at English lit. Characters argue over the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, join societies dedicated to John Milton and in my favorite chapter, audience participation in the presentation of Richard III that harkens back to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think even if you do not have a detailed knowledge of English literature you’ll enjoy this book, but it is certainly enhanced if you know the story line of Jane Eyre. Thursday Next is a fully developed character with a quirky family, appealing work colleagues and a love interest. A veteran of the Crimean War (Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade is a sub plot) Next is human and sympathetic enough to carry this series – I understand there are a total of 5 books.
While Fforde’s novel clearly gives a nod to Dickens, Christie, James, Orwell, Rowling and Monty Python his work is unique and very creative, perhaps this first novel is just a tad too complex but I really enjoyed it. All but the most literal of readers should like this engaging story. Whether the story and characters will hold up over all five books is for me, still to find out!