I happened upon Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair entirely by accident (though for the life of me I don’t remember how). I seem to have a particular weakness for British charm when it comes to books, and so I resolved to at least read this, the first book in Fforde’s Thursday Next series.
It’s difficult to describe the world that Fforde has made. It’s 1985, but a strange sort of 1985, perhaps some splinter reality similar but fundamentally different from ours. It’s a strange blend of crime novel, science fiction, fantasy, and outright parody. Time travel features heavily, though it is not fundamental to the plot (does that make sense?). Thursday Next is an agent with SpecOps-27, known colloquially as LiteraTec, a branch of England’s modular law enforcement agency. In this alternate reality, literature and art are subjects of intense passion: in the same way that people on our world fight about religious differences, the Englanders of Fforde’s novel fight about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, or the relative benefits of surrealism versus traditional Dickensian literature. The plot shortly begins to involve vampires, and time travel, and the fantastical coming alive of famous books.
To be honest, I think Fforde tries to do a bit too much world-building. Certainly, all of his inventiveness is laudable, but there’s so many references that don’t do anything but serve as forgettable jokes or digs against a particular precept that his reality has preempted. I fundamentally like Fforde’s idea: his world, where literature is a subject of so much passion, is not only clever and engaging, but rife with subtext as well. It gets a bit sidetracked with all his tries to accomplish, however. Fforde is no poet, either: his writing is a trifle stilted and dull. It’s only the curious nature of his characters, and the readers’ genuine interest in the worldbuilding, that keep the narrative afloat.
Even though the book’s devices are as apt to fail as succeed, I still believed it engaging enough that I will read the sequel, if only to tip me to either side of the fence. If you’re at all interesting in quirky fiction, I’d recommend you at least give The Eyre Affair a try.