Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

the_eyre_affair

My father had a face that could stop a clock.

This book is hilarious. It’s probably a lot more funny than I found it, because most of the jokes are constructed around history and classic literature which are two areas in which my knowledge is patchy at best. However, I still found it to be exceedingly witty – I’m not certain I would have survived if I’d actually caught all the jokes. I might have asphyxiated while laughing.

As it was I chuckled my way through with a respectable number of cackles and the odd page of tense silence. Thursday Next is a wonderful protagonist: prickly in all the right places, endearingly reckless and endowed with an intriguing backstory that ambushes her at inconvenient moments. She is a specialist detective in the area of literary crime, working primarily with Shakespearean forgeries.

The world that she inhabits has taken its place as one of my favourite ‘alternate realities’ – fantasy worlds that are recognisable as being very nearly the real world, but with a few things flipped over sideways. It’s 1985, the Crimean War is rumbling back into action with the introduction of plasma guns, Thursday’s Dad is on the run through space and time (he used to be in the ChronoGuard, but has now gone rogue) and Acheron Hades has stolen the original manuscript for Charles Dickens’ Chuzzlewit and is holding it ransom. Somehow, all of these things are Thursday’s problem.

Unfortunately, LiteraTec (AKA SpecOp27) is overworked, underfunded and unimpressed by Thursday’s claims that Acheron is, in fact, behind the crime. Because everyone knows that Acheron Hades is dead.

Thursday refuses to be put off, follows a tip from her future self and heads to Swindon with her pet dodo. Here she faces, among other things, some family reunions, the man who used to be her fiancé, the suspicious might of the Goliath Corporation and eternal puzzle of the unsatisfying dénouement of Jane Eyre (everyone except the most hardcore of fans agree that really, she should have married Rochester. Somehow.).

And then Jane Eyre herself goes missing, kidnapped from the manuscript by Acheron Hades using a device created by Thursday’s Uncle, Mycroft. The wonderfully named Jack Schitt of the Goliath Corporation instantly insinuates himself into the case and withholds information from everybody, her boss in Swindon is interested in very little beyond golf, and her mother just wants her to have children already.

And so Thursday is left to puzzle out the important questions, such as ‘Do those plasma guns really work? Can I smuggle myself into the People’s Republic of Wales? Why is Goliath Corporation so interested in this case?’ and ‘Should I go and see Richard III with my ex-fiancé?’

It’s a fantastic read, well worth every moment, and I highly recommend it. Even to those, like me, who have never quite managed to read a classic in their lives. If I got most of the jokes, so will you! And if going to see Shakespeare was more like the play of Richard III in this book, I would do it all the time (When is the winter of our discontent? NOW!).

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