Do you like a good detective story? How about one with a clever and emotionally tormented hero, a perfectly despicable villain, and a cast of bizarre characters that keep everything fun and interesting? The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is set in an alternate universe where beloved literature and the arts are the things most holy. A place where you can get jailed for your bad interpretations of Shakespeare, where warring gangs of surrealists and impressionists start fights in the streets of London, where a branch of the police force is dedicated solely to investigating crimes against literature.
Thursday Next is a LiteraTec, a Literary Detective in the Special Operations police force. At the start of the book, she's investigating the disappearance of Charles Dickens' original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewitz. As she gets further into her investigation, she becomes embroiled in the hunt for the villain most foul, Acheron Hades. He has committed numerous murders and is known for his cunning and seeming indestructibility. She also happens to know him from college, when he tried to seduce her but was impervious to his charms.
Acheron's plans are not just to steal manuscripts and other valuable artifacts, but to change them. His ultimate plot involves Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and what he has planned would be considered a heinous crime indeed, especially in this alternate world where Jane Eyre is held so sacred. Toss in some family drama that includes Thursday's genius uncle and rogue father and a rekindled romance with her former fiance, and you've got some great reading here.
Jenny: This book was such a fun read. Female detectives tend to fall into the same stereotypes: tough, tortured, trying to make it in a man's world, an inky past that tends to catch up with them, and so on. Thursday is made even better than that stereotype by this amazing world she inhabits. There's so many literary references and jokes played on knowledge of the classics that I started to wonder if I was even catching them all, with my limited knowledge.
There were definitely some great fantastical elements to this book that I liked. Time travel, Acheron's uncanny abilities, and that random section with the vampire? It seemed out of place, but I like vampires so I forgave it. The way the SpecOps is set up cracked me up, that nobody knew what anybody else did and it was all so very hush hush. Made me excited to read more of the books to see what else Fforde has up his sleeves.
Caren: I had a lot of fun reading it too. Definitely imaginative! Any roughness in writing was made up for by the unexpected and delightfully fanciful world he created. Parts of it felt like a cross between Odd Thomas and Harry Potter. I loved the literary references too, and kept thinking I needed to brush up on my classics! My favorite parts were the references to the bookworms who lived off of prepositions and created apostrophes as waste products. I laughed out loud at how it affected the text!
I was disappointed in some of the bad language, and I'm not convinced that the story needed to continue into another novel, but when I am looking for another light and fun read I think I'll have to try out the next one.
Jenny: I think the key description for this book is, like you wrote, light and fun. No heavy thinking here. It's one you can pick up when you're not up for any serious contemplation.
I loved loved loved how Thursday helped change the ending of Jane Eyre from the "original" where Jane and Mr. Rochester never see each other again, to where she battles Acheron in Thornfield, Bertha dies, and all those other details that make the story so much more satisfying. Especially when she sneaks off to where Jane is living and yells her name outside her window. It tickled me pink. I've read Jane Eyre a dozen times or so and seeing it from this different angle was a hoot.
In all, it was a fun, easy read that made me laugh. It would be a good pick for some summer reading at the pool or on vacation.
Caren: Oh yes! It was so clever how Thursday's involvement becomes responsible for the Jane Eyre we know and love. And I loved that Rochester wasn't as cranky in "real" life (can you say that?) as he is in the novel. Another favorite -- the uncle's invention that allowed the person wearing this special hat to turn their brain off and watch soothing images of flying toasters. Silly, imaginative, and a whole lot of fun!