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The Eyre Affair (2003)

The Eyre Affair (2003)

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3.92 of 5 Votes: 1
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0142001805 (ISBN13: 9780142001806)
penguin books

About book The Eyre Affair (2003)

Sadly, I found this book to be a major disappointment. I'm huge fan of British comedy and science fiction--Monty Python, Douglas Adams, Dr. Who, Neil Gaiman--and something of an autodidact lit geek, so this novel which promises the exploits of a special agent who has to travel into the novel Jane Eyre in pursuit of a villain sounds right up my alley. So, what went wrong?Let's start with the world building. While Fforde's alternate universe England is quite inventive, it's also tonally weird. England has been locked in the Crimean War all the way into the present day (circa 1985), with no end in sight, and the government appears to be controlled by a large corporation dubbed (unsubtly) the Goliath Corporation. OK, so this is some sort of dystopia, right? But wait, thanks to cloning, scientists have been able to bring dodos out of extinction, and it turns out that they make great pets! Like, OMG!, is that cute or what? The Eyre Affair may be the only dystopic novel I've read in which the Breads and Circuses are intended as much for the reader as for the regime's subjects. (Oh, if only Big Brother had thought to provide everyone with messenger owls, 1984 could have been a much more amusing novel!)Second, there's the use of names. As Roger Ebert once said, "Funny names, in general, are a sign of desperation." I'd like to amend that slightly to say, it's really a bad idea for a novel to feature characters whose names are vastly more interesting than their personalities. Heroine Thursday Next gets a pass, as does main baddy Acheron Hades, but I can't think of anything funny about Paige Turner, Victor Analogy or Alexandria Belfridge.Oh, and let me just say, Acheron Hades' motivation to engage in villainy for no reason because pointless wickedness is the purest form of wickedness? I know it's supposed to make him seem particularly evil, but it just makes him seem arbitrary. I kept expecting the revelation that he was an escapee from a second-rate potboiler.The biggest failure, though, is how panderingly The Eyre Affair wields its metatextuality. Dead British authors are like celebrities in Fforde's England. People change their names to John Milton out of devotion. Robo-Shakespeares quote the bard from every corner. Surrealists somehow manage to spark riots. (This joins with the whole Crimean War aspect to give the sense that England is terribly stagnant. None of the authors that inspire devotion ever saw the 20th century. And surrealism is controversial enough to spark riots? Really, how very quaint.)The scene that really put me off, and which should have inspired me to quit the novel, was the performance of a Rocky Horror version of Richard III, after which a couple of the characters discuss how much they love classic literature. There's something a little jarring about seeing a camped up production of Shakespeare held up as an expression of deep love, as if the Thursday Nextiverse (or even Fforde himself) completely misses the point of camp. Does Fforde think people bring cutlery to midnight showings of The Room because they feel Tommy Wiseau is an auteur?It may be hyperliterate in its use of references, but the effect often feels superficial. In the action revolving around the titular novel, Jane Eyre is reduced to a damsel in distress and Rochester to a straightforward hero, the complex characters I so loved in their original context reduced to cardboard cutouts. Fforde is like a lobotomized Borges, finding ways to dumb down the literature he loves instead of finding new and interesting depths.So, sorry, just did not enjoy this novel. I have to confess though, if I ever got a hold of one of those devices to travel into literature, you know the first thing I'd do? Carpet bomb Fforde's England with copies of every major modernist and postmodernist work from the last century. I'd like to think I'd be treated as a liberator.

(The much longer full review can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the literary genre known as "speculative" fiction; for those not familiar with it, the genre primarily concerns itself with historical questions of "what if?" What if the South had won the Civil War, for example, or the Nazis World War II? What if computers, robots and nuclear weapons had been invented in the 1840s instead of the 1940s? It is a great genre for those intrigued by the issues raised in science-fiction, but who do not care for the more hard-edged fetishes of that particular genre (the spaceships, the lasers, the aliens); because ultimately speculative fiction relies a lot more on real history and sociology for its ultimate entertainment value than most traditional sci-fi, making it a good place to regularly find big crossover hits.One such hit, for example, has turned out to be the delightful 2002 speculative novel The Eyre Affair, by the Douglas-Adamsesque Jasper Fforde; it has in fact inspired an entire series of popular novels since then set in the same speculative universe, collectively known as the "Thursday Next" series because of its main protagonist. The latest, First Among Sequels, just came out this summer; I've heard a lot of great things about all the books in the series, so thought I'd start at the beginning and finally experience them for myself. And man, what a speculative world this turns out to be -- it is an entire alternate Earth that Fforde creates, in fact, one much like ours in many ways but with there also being telling differences. Like...--In Fforde's world, Russia never had a Soviet revolution, and is still run by the Tsarist royal family;--As a result, England and Russia have been fighting the Crimean War for 131 years now, the entire thing turning into a Vietnam-like unwinnable mess that neither side can politically walk away from anymore;--As a result of that, England in Fforde's world never reaches Empire status, with among the results being a fiercely independent and antagonistic Republic of Wales, as well as a virtual police state in England itself, put in place by an all-consuming private corporation called Goliath;--It is in some respects a book nerd's dream world, a world where obscure Victorian authors are considered rock stars, and the argument over whether Shakespeare really existed or not one that spills over into street gangs and organized religions;--And it is also a world where several topics we consider "supernatural" are to them very real and even blase -- a world that has perfected cloning, a world where time travel is an accepted reality (if not a highly controlled activity), with a series of secret government divisions in charge of regulating and policing the various industries involved.We as the readers, then...

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Dear Mr. Fforde,You are a very clever writer, and I’m sure you know it; your plotting, however, leaves something to be desired. I have had some difficulty reconciling the witty, bantering tone of your novel The Eyre Affair with its hardboiled plotline and tendency to shift focus without warning. Also, you should note that just because you inserted exposition into the beginning of each chapter and labeled it as an excerpt from an imaginary biography or memoir does not for one second make it anything other than exposition, and rather dull exposition at that. Please don’t take this the wrong way, because there were a lot of things I liked, even loved, about your book. The idea of an alternate history steeped in literary and artistic tradition so strong that it influences government policy-making and triggers riots is a wonderful concept, and your ability to convey this with a wink and a nod is great. And Thursday Next, your strong-but-conflicted protagonist, is a good foil to the silly Baconian door-to-door pamphleteers and reverse-engineered pet dodos. But that still leaves the problem of plot, which I don’t think was quite as high up on your list of “things to do in my book.” Much of the story was well-paced and enticing, but then we reach the actual “Eyre affair” of the title, nearly four-fifths of the way through the book , and things get problematic, and not just for your spunky heroine. After Thursday’s foray into the novel, which was very original and fun to read, the reader is suddenly thrust into a tangle of loose ends with astoundingly abrupt solutions. Thursday left the man she loves ten years ago? Of course they can get back together on his wedding day with less than a page of dialogue and a sorta-clever-but-really-cheesy plot hook stolen borrowed from Jane Eyre! Thursday needs to escape the Goliath Corporation after she “lost” their leader? Send a car that cleverly deposits her at the closing of another frayed plot string! These things really needed a little more effort, sir. I am willing, out of appreciation for your obvious love of literature, to give the next book in your series a try and hope that it resolves itself in a more coherent fashionBefore closing, I will say that (view spoiler)[ the idea that Jane Eyre originally ended with her marrying (ugh) St. John Rivers, and only through Thursday’s intervention was the novel rewritten to reunite Jane and Rochester, (hide spoiler)]
— ~Geektastic~

It is 1985 and the world isn't quite as we know it. Nor is history the same. There's a lot of odd things going on, otherwordly creatures are real, some people can go back and forth in time, literature is BIG, and the Crimean war has been going on since the 1800s. Thursday Next, a veteran of this war, now works for SpecOps (Special Operations) 27- the Literatec division. She's a kind of literature detective, and when the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit vanishes, she is brought into a much bigger case involving her old Uni professor, Acheron Hades, now a master-mind criminal.Hades' plan is fairly simple: using Thursday's uncle's Prose Portal invention, he can kidnap characters from manuscripts and hold them to ransom. Literature being as important as it is in this world, you can bet he can demand millions. When his plan for Chuzzlewit doesn't go quite as planned, he steals the manuscript for Jane Eyre instead.In this story, the plot of Jane Eyre is a bit different. Namely, she marries her cousin St John and goes to India with him. Or Africa, wherever it was. Everyone agrees it's a disappointing ending, not least of all Rochester himself, whom Thursday has a few run-ins with. It seems popping in and out of books isn't so hard as you might think. I do have to wonder, though, at Thursday's run-down of the plot for her colleague's benefit, because I have to disagree on a few points: firstly, Rochester fell in love with Jane pretty much straight away, he just didn't show it; secondly, he never intended to marry Blanche Inghram, that was just a ploy to get Jane jealous and make her love him back; and maybe it's naive of me, and maybe it's the opposite, but I don't know that there's much proof that Adele was Rochester's "love-child".Anyway. The plot might seem a little confusing, because there's so much happening at once, but it's not. It's fast-paced and funny, and also highly original. I do have to question the curious use of a first-person omniscient narrator - though in this particular world, anything goes; it's just a bit odd to have scenes related in detail of which Thursday wasn't present for. Also, and this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, when someone is retelling a situation that includes a conversation, no one says things like "I stammered in reply" and "There was a pause. Acheron smiled." Seriously, this kind of thing is very distracting because it's so utterly implausible and unrealistic.Also, I don't know how much of literature or anything else you could learn from a book like this, which is at its heart mocking, and full of deviances. I wouldn't take anything for fact. But I loved the joke names, especially the (rather obvious) Jack Schitt - oh loads of fun there! Thursday's uncle, Mycroft Next, the inventor, is a bit like Q from the James Bond movies, but much more vague; anyway, his inventions are quite funny. The side-plot of the Crimean war adds a serious bent to the novel, and is plenty pertinent. In short, it wasn't quite what I was expecting but I enjoyed it immensely. I loved how the ending of Jane Eyre - one of my favourite books by the way - was changed to the one that we are familiar with sort-of by accident. And I loved the idea of the characters living the life of the story, over and over again, but able to do more or less as they liked when they weren't in the scene. Rochester was wonderful :)
—Shannon (Giraffe Days)

This is so much fun. I want to play too! And, as it happens, I have a surprisingly good opening. So, with the usual perfunctory apologies, may I presentThe Meyre Affair: a Thursday Next storyThe hardest part is telling them they're fictional. After that, the rest is usually easy. - Thursday Next, A Life in SpecOpsI could start this story at any number of points, but I will choose the moment when I knocked on Manny Rayner's front door. Nothing happened, so I knocked again. He opened it.The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

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