Author: Jasper Fforde, 2001.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Alternative History. Science Fiction/Fantasy Humour/Satire. Metafiction.
Other Details: Paperback. 337 pages.
The Eyre Affair takes place in an alternative1985 in which the Crimean War between England and Imperial Russia has been going on for 130 years; a world where cloned dodos are popular pets, where dirigibles provide air transport and where literary and artistic issues can be so hotly debated that they can lead to public riots. Thursday Next is a thirty-six year old Crimean War veteran and a very non-Bridget-Jones-like London singleton employed by SpecOps as a literary detective. Her assignments are fairly routine and include apprehending forgers and recovering stolen manuscripts. Then, in an already surreal world, things get stranger still as Thursday comes up against Acheron Hades, a master criminal with diabolical plans to blackmail the literary world by entering into original manuscripts and kidnapping literary characters. As the title suggests, his main focus is Jane Eyre, both the novel and the character.
I recall some years ago spotting this novel at a local bookshop; its title and faux-distressed cover showing a brightly-stripped sports car crashing through what appears to be a tear in reality promised something very interesting. Yet it has languished on my to-be-read pile until this year when selected by one of my reading groups. Part of the issue was that I had heard from a few folk that it was a 'difficult read'. What I hadn't considered was that they may not have been as comfortable as I am with science fiction and surrealistic aspects or novels that engage so playfully in this kind of unabashed genre-busting. I certainly seem to have the right sort of brain box to enjoys its quirks because I loved it from the opening pages and now can hardly believe that I've owned it for years without reading it.
It was intelligent, witty and just a great deal of fun. I found myself laughing out loud a fair few times while reading it. It is packed with literary references and in-jokes aimed at book lovers and while some of these passed me by, I was able to appreciate a fair few. I could easily see how it almost instantly gained cult status. It was very well received at our reading group and quite a few of us felt inspired by it to re-read Jane Eyre.
Jasper Fforde's Sub-Index on TN-1: 'The Eyre Affair' - plenty to explore.