Wednesday, September 09, 2009

112 (2009 #37). The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair, first in author Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next literary detective series, is part science fiction, part mystery, and part alternate history (literary and otherwise), and very funny. The events in the book take place in a 1985 that’s apparently been changed (maybe by Nineteen Eighty-Four?). The Crimean War is still going on. Time travel and dodos for pets are common. People actually *care* about literature and art (as opposed to sports), with rabid Baconians, Raphaelites, and the Surrealists attacked by the Impressionists.

In this story, a criminal named Acheron Hades begins murdering characters in books, ultimately threatening Jane Eyre herself. “Literatec” Thursday Next, aided or thwarted by characters with interesting names (for example, her bosses Braxton Hicks and Victor Analogy, and a bad guy named Jack Schitt), ultimately solves the case. I loved all the literary allusions, although I'm ashamed to admit I've only read a summary of Jane Eyre, so I probably missed a lot there.

Being a Shakespeare fan, I particularly appreciated the Will-Speak machines, coin-operated kiosks available on various street corners with Shakespeare character mannequins reciting the character’s famous speeches. I want a WillSpeak - although I'd probably need more than one - so many favorite Shakespeare characters! It was also fun to read about Richard III being performed a la Rocky Horror Picture Show, with audience participation.

Another important activity in the story is “book jumping,” where characters come out of books (as in Inkheart) and people can go into them. Sometimes this is involuntary, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes an invention like that of Thursday’s Uncle Mycroft, the Prose Portal, can help someone do it. My favorite scene is the one where the bioengineered Bookworms in the Prose Portal eat omitted prepositions and dropped definitive articles, fart apostrophes and ampersands, and belch unnecessary capitalizations (pages 201 and 312 in the hardbound edition) – which affects the {written} speeches of the people around them. So funny! [The proliferation of unnecessary apostrophes of late, particularly on signs, and the misuse of its and it's drives me crazy!]

I enjoyed the book enough to want to read the next in the series, Lost in a Good Book. I picked that one up at a Friends of the Library book sale a while back, but a friend told me you really need to read this series in order. So, I was really glad when one of my online book groups picked this book to discuss! It was our selection for a humorous title.

The best fun is trying to track down all the references. For everything British that we colonists don't understand, go to this page on Fforde’s website for explanations book by book.

I think this is a book you have to read first just to enjoy Fforde's imagination. Just accept things that are written as the way things are and go on with the story. It may need a re-read to thoroughly enjoy the real story behind some of his characters and situations. I had some trouble remembering who was who with so many characters coming in and out of the story quickly. That's where Fforde's previous experience in film is apparent ... the book switched gears very much like a screenplay.

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