The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

A review of the fantasy adventure novel The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

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What if there was another world? A world where fiction actually existed, with characters having another life when their stories weren’t being read? Characters living fully in their backstories and interacting with people from the real world: a parallel Earth where Nazi Germany occupied Britain until 1949, genetic sequencing brought dodos and neanderthals back from the dead, and people fought to the death for a boxed set of romance novels because fiction was a thousand times more popular than in our world?

All this provides the backdrop to The Eyre Affair, the first book in the popular Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. Thursday Next is a literary detective now back in her home town of Swindon, investigating the theft of an original manuscript: Jane Eyre. In Thursday’s world, originals have power—change it, and you change the storyline for every copy in existence, and it’s Thursday’s job to protect it or get involved.

I love the Thursday Next series, and this book is the perfect start to it. Thursday herself, so called by her parents because she was born on a Thursday, is scatty but has a certain feistiness that strengthens her as a character. She is an incredibly capable lead, and it’s rather pleasant to see a well-rounded female character not reduced to a minor sub-plot half-way through the story.

The Eyre Affair is a very clever book. It blends the surreal with some truly intelligent parody and an incredible number of literary allusions; they alone will have enormous appeal for those who believe that literature really is the thing. A book that is unashamedly comic and playful also pulls off the trait of being simultaneously very intelligent. The way it carries off first-person narration so effortlessly merely adds to the obvious literary skill demonstrated by its author.

The idea of high art as pop culture is delightfully done, like the guy with the ‘Hand of God’ tattoo, or the door-to-door Baconian missionaries, or a John Milton convention. Take a sprinkling of real-life pop culture, make it art-inclined, and that’s what you get.

One of the best things about this book is that it overflows with promise for sequels in this universe. Time travel, a chilling scene with a lisping vampire, lycanthropy vaccines, and the wealth of literature are all dealt with, but not so thoroughly that it can’t be used again. The writing style is spare and fast-moving, with clear, clever dialogue.

Along with Thursday Next—who is very hard-boiled, tough and smart, but with a vulnerable side—there is a great range of supporting characters. Uncle Mycroft is just delightful, and Acheron Hades is one of those villains who loves evil for its own sake. People who like a complex reason for a person to be bad won’t like him. “I’m just…well, differently moralled, that’s all,” he says at one point.

In subsequent books Thursday discovers the police force within fiction, which must ensure the narrative is adhered to, and bored characters don’t BookJump to other books—or even the real world, causing chaos. And so her adventures continue.

Read The Eyre Affair or miss out on a wonderfully inventive and clever piece of fiction.

Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.

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