The Eyre Affair
Written by: Jasper Fforde
Published in: 2001
Synopsis: There is another 1985, where London's criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave's Mr Big.
Acheron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing.
Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn't easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.
Challenges: Action/Adventure for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge
I picked up this book before heading off on my beach holiday because it seemed like the ideal beach read - light, fun, and a little bit clever. It was everything I had hoped it'd be and I had a great time reading Thursday Next's adventure as I sat on the beach after a swim. Sorry, have I completely angered all of you suffering through dreary winters at the moment? It wasn't my intention, I SWEAR!
So if you're like me and have either never heard of this book or avoided it then here's what you need to know. Thursday Next works as a LiteraTec in the Special Ops - she's tasked with hunting down the guys and gals who have taken to stealing, forging or destroying literature - a crime that seems to be more rampant than any other. She has a pet dodo (cloning is big), an upsetting ex, a time travelling dad on the run, a love of Jane Eyre and a hatred for England's role in the 130 year Crimean War. After a disastrous stake-out on an old college lecturer turned villain (Acheron Hades) ends with most of her team dead and she's visited by herself in a hospital, Thursday decides to return to her home town of Swindon.
It's back in Swindon that everything ramps up to 11. Far from being the quiet home she remembers, Thursday finds herself squared off against Hades again, only this time he's managed to steal a manuscript of Jane Eyre and he's threatening to erase the lead characters if his demands aren't met. With her LiteraTec team mates (who are used to much quieter existences), Thursday struggles to keep up with Hades and maybe even get a step ahead. Of course, that isn't easy when Hades is...well, you never really know what he is. He's able to detect when people use his name, he can walk past video cameras without being seen and bullets don't hurt him...so he might be Voldemort, or he might be anything really. Though this world is very different to our own, the exact parameters are never actually set. We know there are vampires and werewolves (they're very briefly mentioned) but does magic? Is that what Hades is? Magic? Or is he a god? A demon? A very good criminal? You never really know, and it never really bugged me, except when it did. I mean, in Harry Potter you know why Voldemort is invincible - he's an evil ass wizard who played with some black magic, but Hades is only ever explained as a man who really, really enjoys being bad and can also do a bunch of crazy magical things for some reason.
And that right there is my one real annoyance with the novel. Fforde paints himself out of any corner he finds himself in with a neat little flourish of "this is an alternate England and things are different" while not really saying why certain things happen in particular ways. It doesn't quite go deus ex machina but there are several moments of father ex machina and even Rochester ex machina. It's a fun book and I was more invested in keeping an eye out for the literary hints and clues (and there are hundreds!), but it's a weakness of the author and it may harm the potential of the rest of the books in the series (assuming that doesn't get better with practice). The only other annoyance is the romance plot, it's mental how bad it is. I outwardly groaned in the final few chapters of the book and it was almost, almost, bad enough for me to dismiss the book completely. I mean, after setting Thursday up as this independent and strong female (kinda) who has been haunted by a past relationship for over ten years I was hoping Thursday might learn something and use that to her benefit, rather than just predicably do what was set out from page one. But I have issues with relationships in any book that's supposed to be about a strong female character, especially when that book skates pretty close to failing the bechdel test (and in my opinion does fail).
But complaints aside, this was a fun book. I enjoyed picking up on the literary hints (mostly in the names) and the inclusion of weird little sub-plots about door-to-door Baconians, art terrorists and French revisionists who are playing with time and history. The Jane Eyre side of the story I can't really comment on since I haven't read Jane Eyre, but I liked way Fforde created the world inside the book which is very aware that it's a world that only exists in a book. It's a brilliant concept, it just isn't always executed as well as it should have been - but it performed more than well enough for me to be interested in seeing where the rest of the series heads - even if it means dealing with the whole relationship debacle again.