Book Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde


My saga of reading Jasper Fforde‘s The Eyre Affair is a long and sordid…affair. It began around two years ago when I spotted it on the shelf at my library, and I flipped through it. It looked pretty good, with a few references to Shakespeare and Milton, as well as the clear allusion to Charlotte Brontë‘s most famous heroine. I set it down, marked it as “to-read” on Goodreads, and moved on.

Fast-forward to last March; two of my friends–who would later form our book club–decided to read it. I decided I would join them. I generally listen to audiobooks as I drive a lot, and I have to read a lot for the classes I teach (and even more, now that I throw grad school into the mix).Now, I abhor abridged audiobooks. There is no reason for their existence, other than to cater to ignorance. Most abridged audios average 3-5 discs, so when I picked up the audio from the library and saw that it was 8 discs–a respectable number for a normal-sized book–I thought nothing of it. About halfway through the book, I discovered that there is something called “slightly abridged.” I think they removed the epigrams at the beginning of the chapters, and that’s it.

Disgusted, I set the audiobook down and moved on with my life, though The Eyre Affair continued to crop up, and I knew I had not seen the last of Thursday Next.

Move ahead just a bit more in time. Jasper Fforde is coming to a Joseph Beth Books not too far away from me, and I knew I had to go. I also knew what followed that–The Eyre Affair. It just had to be.

This is the first in the Thursday Next series, set in a 1985 much like ours, but with some major differences. The Crimean War has gone on for more than 100 years between England and Russia, and literature is the national pastime–or, rather, it is the national fanaticism. There are riots between Pre-Raphaelites and Surrealists, Shakespeare’s authenticity is a hotly debated subject, people try to pass off forged manuscripts of literature, seeing Richard III onstage (think Rocky Horror Picture Show) is a great night out, and the technology to enter into a book has just been invented in Thursday Next’s uncle’s garage. Enter the Goliath Corporation, a company which effectively acts as a shadow government in England, trying to keep the war in the Crimea going for another century because it’s good for the economy.

Worse than that, however, is the theft of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript and the threat of Martin’s execution if someone does not comply with Acheron Hades‘ demands. You see, when someone enters any old book, they can play around in the world, with no harm done. However, when that person enters the original manuscript, they can alter all the rest of the copies. Then, the Jane Eyre (which ends by Jane leaving for India, never to see her beloved Rochester again!) manuscript is stolen, and a very severe threat comes through.

Thursday Next is a LiteraTech, responsible for policing literary crimes–and she’s the best there is. She transfers to Swindon–a big change from her fast-paced life in London–and picks up Hades’ trail after he steals the Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript, despite interference from the Goliath Corporation. Thursday must stop him before he ruins a great work of literature, despite its terrible ending–though she may have a few things to say about that.

This novel is almost indescribable. You almost have to read it to get it. I knew a lot about the basic plot and world before I read it, but that didn’t do it justice.

Filled with obscure and witty references to literature, this novel is literary crack. It is funny and intelligent, action-packed yet with a twinge of romance, and is absolutely worth it. I need to read the next one soon; I only wish I had gone through with it sooner.

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