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The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde

Hodder & Stoughton

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-340-82047-0

389 pages* ; £16.99 ($45.00)

The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde

Viking Press

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0670030643

384 pages ; $23.95

Date Reviewed: 02-06-2002

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002



Science Fiction, Mystery, General Fiction

02-05-02, 06-24-02. 06-28-02, 12-06-02, 01-07-03, 02-25-03, 04-30-03

Some books come out of left field, some books from an alternate universe. It's not as unusual as you might think. Since the dawn of Science Fiction (Ward Moore's 'Bring the Jubilee' in 1953), "alternate histories" have been a popular subgenre of Science Fiction. Actual history can supply an infinite number of turning points, where authors can change an event and create a whole new world from that single seed. It's not exactly clear why they're typically categorized as 'science fiction'. In a sense, all fiction is "alternate history". But don't worry -- Jasper Fforde's 'The Eyre Affair' isn't simply an alternate history, though the world it takes place in doesn't have the same history as ours. Nor is it a straightforward mystery, though the main character is a "literary detective" who pursues a criminal and solves a crime. 'The Eyre Affair' is not a straightforward anything other than pure, 100% unadulterated fun and great writing. Stringing up the thinnest of high wires, Fforde manages to charge across several Grand Canyons' worth of gaping abyss, confidently taking the reader where no-one would expect to be able to go.

'The Eyre Affair' starts in a 1985 where time travel is common but highly controlled and mass media is dominated by great literature. Yes, it sounds improbable, but Fforde brings it and his heroine, the feisty literary detective Thursday Next confidently to life. She rapidly finds herself thrown into the most difficult case of her career, pursuing an arch villain who is stealing author's original manuscripts, then kidnapping characters from them and holding the world at ransom if they want their precious books restored. Readers won't be able to turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens as Thursday pursues Acheron Hades through time and literature to foil his plan.

But page turning will rapidly take a back seat to total enjoyment of Fforde's characters and his constant barrage of hilarious inside literary jokes and allusions. For a book as funny as this, with characters as compelling and likeable as Thursday Next, Braxton Hicks and the evil Jack Schitt, 'The Eyre Affair' is amazingly well researched. Though you might enjoy this book so much that it will feel like a 'guilty pleasure', your sense of guilt will be assuaged by the thousands of literary jokes and allusions. Rest assured, I won't be spoiling a single joke for you, though the temptation is great, nor will I discuss any of the fantastic scenes that Fforde creates.

As with any good book, the success of 'The Eyre Affair' rests largely on the characters. Thursday Next is vulnerable, pushy, and prone to both violence and romance. Edward Rochester takes on a new life in this novel, and helps rewrite the one he started out in. None of the characters seem shallow or merely silly, as can often happen in satire. But then, 'The Eyre Affair' isn't simply satire. It's not simple at all. For all the ease with which it reads, for all the simple pleasures it provides, it's a remarkably complex book, and heralds the start of a series that promises to be both great literature and great fun. And while that may seem like something more likely to occur in Thursday's world than this one, we can only be thankful that our history includes this remarkable novel.

*Note: The UK edition contains 14 pages of previews and advertisement (from Thursday's world, not ours) not found in the US edition. While the UK hardcover is sold out, a trade paperback version is still available from your favorite UK book dealer.