The Eyre Affair
Category: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Tags: alternate history, humor, literary pastiche
I had difficulty deciding whether to classify this book as fantasy or sci-fi; basically, it’s just fluff with elements of both. But enjoyable, charming fluff, which makes for an entertaining if not extremely edifying read. The book is set in 1985, in an alternate-history England — a world in which England has been at war with Russia for about 150 years, Wales is a socialist republic, and everyday folks take literature very, very seriously. John Milton fandom is a force to be reckoned with, and there are street riots over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Thirty-something single woman Thursday Next works as a LiteraTec, solving literature-related crimes and protecting valuable manuscripts from vandalism of various types. So of course, when the original manuscripts of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit and Bronte’s Jane Eyre go missing, Thursday is on the job. Can she prevent the heinous murder of Martin, Jane, and other literary characters, and rescue her aunt, held hostage (alas!) in a Wordsworth poem? Only (rather fluid) time will tell…
This book will be thoroughly enjoyable to anyone who has both a familiarity with English literary tradition and a tolerance for zaniness. The literary allusions are clever, and the humor is both bizarre and genuinely funny. (I could imagine quite a few isolated scenes playing out well as Monty Python skits.) The good-versus-evil plot set-up is exaggerated to the ultimate degree — how can an outstandingly villainous literary terrorist named Acheron Hades be anything but hilarious? (Not to mention the unfortunately named evil corporation manager, Jack Schitt.) Good triumphs and evil gets its comeuppance, the ladies get the men, and everything comes to a neat — if extremely wacky — conclusion.
Fforde’s writing is fairly good on a word-to-word level. However, the book is most admirable as the product of an obviously extremely active imagination. The worldbuilding occasionally falls short, leaving a few minor inconsistencies — but then, who really cares, especially in a world that admits for time travel? (Throw in time travel with past-altering capabilities and just about any book will run into inconsistencies…) And the author does manage to insert an anti-war subplot which pretty much screams ‘political message!!!’ in this era. All in all, though, the book is just plan fun. In stereotyping the stereotypes, then putting them in his own uniquely bizarre alternate-reality setting, Fforde has created something entirely original, making for an enjoyable, light read.
Content warning: The book contains rather a lot of bad language; the characters are particularly fond of the s-word (even aside from the secondary villain’s name), and the f-word makes a few appearances as well.