It took three people to recommend it before I finally read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. My mother, who described it as ‘a world where librarians reign supreme’ (what’s not to love), a uni friend, and then finally, my friend, Sophie. And the only reason that she succeeded is because she quite literally mailed it to my house.
The Eyre Affair follows literary agent Thursday Next in a parallel universe where England and Russia have been fighting in a war that has lasted over a century; where literary agents have a status that rivals the FBI and where issues like ‘Did Shakespeare really write those plays?’ is on the tip of everyone’s tongues. Like my mother said, book nerds here reign supreme (FINALLY!).
Thursday Next is enlisted to help track down the evil mastermind Acheron Hades, her former university professor, who also has the ability to shape shift, stop bullets and avoid any form of photographic detection. While Thursday Next survives a stakeout on Hades (that leaves everyone else dead), things manage to turn from bad to worse, particularly when Hades tracks down the original copy of Jane Eyre and threatens to kill off the leading man, Rochester. How does he plan on doing it? By using an invention created by Thursday’s batty but brilliant uncle Mycroft, which allows anyone to enter a book’s universe – and as long as he makes changes to the original, then he’ll make changes to all copies around the world.
What a great concept for a storyline, right? After all, it’s one thing for a character in a novel to be kidnapped and killed (a character we were only recently introduced to), but quite another to kill off a character and story that has been beloved by millions for over a century. Imagine Pride and Prejudice without Mr Darcy? Harry Potter without Harry (or Voldemort for that matter). While literature may not be quite as beloved in our universe as it is in Thursday’s, I think most of us can feel our hearts break a little at the thought of Elizabeth Bennett stuck with her mother (and Mary) for the rest of her life.
However, while the concept of The Eyre Affair was fantastic, I have to admit that I didn’t love this book as much as I really should have. While I think that is partially because I’m not the biggest fantasy/sci-fi fan, I think it was more Jasper Fforde’s execution. Though his writing was witty, I didn’t have much of an emotional connection with the characters, ironic considering the central plot. And though the novel was called The Eyre Affair, the first half of the novel actually had little to do with Jane Eyre, but rather had a slow build up that included Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, Thursday moving towns, a somewhat lacklustre romantic lead and a loophole in the time-space continuum. Once again, this may be because I’m not into sci-fi, but overall I spent a great deal of the first half of the novel wondering when the actual plot would begin to start.
Yet in saying that, I can see why The Eyre Affair is loved by so many readers. Jasper Fforde definitely has a flair for the original, and his ability to tie in much-loved classics with his own bizarre universe is really quite impressive. Plus, I have to give him points for changing the storyline of Jane Eyre so that his ending made sense. For someone who has actually never read Jane Eyre (I know, terrible), I was delightfully surprised how he managed to make the faux-version so realistic that I kept wondering why anyone would read a novel with such a disappointing ending.
Have you read The Eyre Affair or anything by Jasper Fforde? How would you feel if your favourite literary character was kidnapped? Let me know!