I’m not entirely sure why I didn't approach Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series sooner. I guess I just knew that it began with a book called The Eyre Affair
and assumed that it was likely to be in the vein of the million and one Pride and Prejudice
sequels, prequels and alternate realities floating around out there. I’m not a big Jane Eyre fan and I approach those sorts of titles with hesitation. So...snobbery won out.
A few weeks ago, I tried to read the first chapter of Fforde’s most recent Thursday next novel and quickly realized that I was going to have to start at the beginning of the series if it was going to make sense. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re approaching this series for the first time. However – you do not need to be a Jane Eyre fan to enjoy this book. I’m not and I did. It does help, though, if you know a little something about the plot and the characters but, really, skimming the Wikipedia entry should suffice.
So. This book is kind of what might happen if you took Stranger Than Fiction
, crossed it with Minority Report
, threw in some Sherlock Holmes and mixed it well. Shake it, don't stir it. Maybe add some Time Cop
for flavor? I dunno, I’ve never seen that one but The Eyre Affair
takes place in a strange, futuristic alternate-reality version of 1980s London in which time travel and other such reality-bending hijinks are common place. Thursday Next works as a SpecOps agent in the LiteraTec department, meaning she specializes in crimes of the literary sort. Not only can original manuscripts be stolen in Fforde’s world, but it’s possible to literally jump into a book and take its characters hostage. And that’s exactly what happens to Jane Eyre when a madman named Archeron Hades decides to…well, behave as a madman might.
The plot gets all sorts of points for originality and creativity, and Fforde does an excellent job of building an alternate reality, passing it off as realistic, and expecting his characters to conform to its limitations. That being said, his characters aren't the most well-developed. Thursday is kind of generic, as are her coworkers and arch-nemeses. There are times when Fforde’s expositional devices are a little trite, but he writes with a great deal of wit and you will be sore from all the elbows he’ll throw into your ribs (but in a good way, I promise!)
There are other plot threads involving Thursday's romantic life and corporate sponsorship of global conflict that were less interesting to me, but they play a role in both propelling this novel's plot forward and leading you into the sequel.
By no means perfect, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable read for bibliophiles, and I am definitely looking forward to diving into the rest of the series.