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Friday, March 20, 2009

cover of 'The Eyre Affair'

This book was recommended to me once when I attempted to describe Connie Willis' delightful To Say Nothing of the Dog-- another literary, time-travelling, mystery, genre-bending book (which both sapphire and I have read and love). It's taken me a while to get a hold of a copy to read, but it was just as entertaining as promised. Thursday Next, a veteran of the interminable Crimean war and survivor of the disastrous charge of the light armored brigade, now works in the Literary division of SpecOps, in an alternate history version of England where people seem obsessed with art and literature-- so many people have had their names changed to that of famous writers that they have to be registered and numbered to keep them straight, and there are rallies and mobs on the street about clashes between different periods and views of art. In the midst of this, a seemingly unstoppable villain named Acheron Hades has stolen an original Dickens manuscript and kidnapped Thursday's eccentric inventor uncle and aunt; as an act of terrorism and to demonstrate his power, Hades removes and kills a minor character from Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit (and since it is the original, all copies of the book are affected), and when he isn't taken seriously enough, he steals the original manuscript of Bronte's Jane Eyre and Jane suddenly goes missing from her own book.

Thursday lives in a delightfully strange version of England. She has a pet dodo named Pickwick (cloned extinct animals were all the rage for pets), her father is a rogue chronoguard (another division of SpecOps) who can stop time and apparently time-travel at will. He drops in on his daughter every now and then and stops time and everyone around them so he can talk to her, and among other things, he apparently also works to fight the French revisionists who are literally rewriting English history. In one particularly delightful visit, he stops by to show Thursday a new, nutritious fruit that comes in its own "hermetically sealed biodegradable packaging" and mentions his plan to go back three thousand years-- after he leaves, Thursday realizes she has just learned about the invention of the banana, named after the woman who engineered it. There are also recurring arguments throughout the book about the real author of Shakespeare's plays, a mystery which Thursday's father resolves in a rather unexpected way.

In Thursday's world, there is also some permeability between the real world and books of fiction. As a child, Thursday once actually entered Jane Eyre and met Mr. Rochester when visiting the Bronte house, and once Acheron starts on his devious plan, she learns that there are other cases where characters have wandered out of the books they belonged in. It's mentioned more than once in the book that people generally found the ending to Jane Eyre unsatisfying and wondered why Jane didn't end up with Mr. Rochester but instead goes off with her missionary cousins. As soon as I read this, I figured that Thursday was somehow going to change this-- in the process of saving Jane from her villainous kidnapper, she would also end up changing the ending to the one that we, in our world, are familiar with. Of course she does, but how she gets there-- and the response from all of Bronte's readers-- makes for an entertaining and satisfying ride.

Thursday is a strong female character, and part of her eventual success against Acheron is a result of the way she sticks to her guns and helps other people out. When she starts working in Swindon, she meets Spike, the one-man SpecOps-17 team who handles werewolves and vampires. When a call for help comes across the wire that all the other SpecOps agents have gotten used to ignoring, Thursday goes to his aid. And one little memento from that encounter turns out to be instrumental later on.

There's also a bit of a love story, and in the end Thursday gets some help via Mr. Rochester and a couple of other grateful characters from Jane Eyre, who help set things right with her former fiance and end this book the way comedies traditionally ended-- with a wedding.

Title:The Eyre Affair
Author:Jasper Fforde
Date published:2003
Genre:Alternate History / Fantasy
Series:Thursday Next
Number of pages:374
Notes:recommended by Tavishi and others


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