This book was so much fun! The world isn’t perfect and definitely chaotic in a sense, but literature is on a hey day here. I must have laughed way too many times over the shenanigans happening when Thursday and the other characters got thrown into the novels mentioned in the book.
THE EYRE AFFAIR
by Jasper Fforde
Penguin Books, 2003
Fantasy, speculative, mystery
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.
A country full of literary marvels
I will admit that I’ve put this on the back-burner solely because the title and the book jacket summary mentioned a heavy involvement with Jane Eyre. Now, I’ve liked my fair share of classic literature and respect the Brontes greatly for their contributions, but the Bronte books were not my particular cup of tea. Which is funny that I write this now, because at the moment, I’ve immersed myself in two Jane Eyre-inspired books, and am enjoying them immensely.
In the case of Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, my enjoyment did not come only from the fact that the story of Jane Eyre gets a fresh coating, but that it also encompasses an alternate historical England where literature has become a pop culture phenomenon. That’s something any bibliophile would love to be a part of, though I suppose escapism is rather important in Thursday’s world–there’s still so much war going on that it becomes understandable why people want to step out of reality and walk right into fiction.
But enough about that, some of the things I did adore about The Eyre Affair.
The Will-Speak machine–officially known as a Shakespeare Soliloquy Vending Automaton–was of Richard III. It was a simple box, with the top half glazed and inside a realistic mannequin visible from the waist up in suitable attire. The machine would dispense a short snippet of Shakespeare for ten pence. They hadn’t been manufactured since the thirties and were now something of a rarity; Baconic vandalism and a lack of trained maintenance were together hastening their demise.
There is a Shakespeare quoting machine. Yes, yes, there are airships. Yes, yes, there are law departments specializing in werewolves, vampires, time travel, and literary forgeries. But come on. There’s a Will-Speak machine. Full of Shakespearisms. And it’s only tenpence a snippet. In 1985. How is this not a thing anywhere else?!
“I call it a Retinal Screen-Saver. Very useful for boring jobs; instead of gazing absently out of the window you can transform your surroundings to any number of soothing images. As soon as the phone goes or your boss walks in you blink and bingo!–you’re back in the real world again.”
Then there’s Mycroft Next and the rest of the Next family. I love all of them. I want to know more about Thursday’s rebellious ChronoGuard dad, though if there’s anyone I enjoyed reading about that wasn’t immediately Thursday herself was definitely Mycroft. He’s the bee’s knees, as it were. I’d love to be able to play with all of his inventions–provided I don’t get meringued like his last assistant. Or get trapped in a Prose Portal while traipsing Gothic fiction. That Prose Portal is amazing, though, not gonna lie.
“Comrades, we stand on the very brink of an act of artistic barbarism so monstrous that I am almost ashamed of it myself. All of you have been my faithful servants for many years, and although none of you possesses a soul quite as squalid as mine, and the faces I see before me are both stupid and unappealing, I regard you all with no small measure of fondness.”
The diabolical villainy that is Acheron Hades. Now here’s a villain whose motive is purely “for shits and giggles.” I loved reading about his antics, even as reprehensible as his actions are, because he’s so effing happy about all the debauched criminal activities he’s taking part in. The book doesn’t just focus on Hades’ villainy, mind, considering there are also other characters who are just as villainous as he is (I mean, Jack Schitt is pretty appropriate name-wise for a reason…). But Acheron. Acheron has a special place in Hades for the things he’s done.
“Sadly, none of the Bard’s original manuscripts survive.” He thought for a moment. “Perhaps the Bennett family could do with some thinning…”
“Pride and Prejudice!?” yelled Mycroft. “You heartless monster!”
Do you see that? Special place in Hades. How dare he think of destroying the sanctity of an Austen novel!
Rochester pulled a second pistol after the first and cocked it.
“Let her go,” he announced, his jaw set, his dark hair falling into his eyes.
Edward Rochester gets a bit more color in his character. I always saw him as boring and unappealing in the book (something that drove me nuts, considering I read Jane Eyre at least three times when I was in school). But given a slight taste of the modern world, Rochester seems to acclimate well. Also, I rather like that he’s prepared to fight for the love of his life. It’s a much better version of this Byronic character than what I always found lacking in the original text.
4.5 out of 5 cookies! I will have to get the rest of the series, because I do want more of the Next family.