Jasper Fforde (2001)
Thursday Next, the heroine in Jasper Fforde’s fantasy crime series, is a literary detective. She solves crimes having to do with great works of literature and characters from great works of literature. Though the year is 1985 and the place Great Britain, it’s a very different world. Literature is taken very, very seriously. One of the nation’s greatest ongoing debates is whether or not William Shakespeare wrote all those plays. Literary characters leave the pages of their story to enter our world, and vice versa. Certain special operatives have the ability to stop time and time travel. And the government is run by a giant, secretive corporation. (Okay, maybe it’s not quite that different.)
The theft of the original manuscript of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit is treated as if the Crown Jewels themselves had been stolen, and Thursday Next is assigned to the case. When a character disappears from the story, the hostage situation becomes a national crisis. Archeron Hades, the evil mastermind behind the plot, becomes a sort of Hannibal Lechter to Thursday’s Clarisse Starling. When he sets his sights on Jane Eyre, things get personal for Thursday and it’s up to her to save the day.
The premise of The Eyre Affair is very clever. In addition to the interesting world that Fforde has created, there are many inside jokes and clever literary references to entertain any lover of classic literature. I found the writing itself however to be a bit pedestrian. This book really reminded me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone stories. Those I read for the character and the mystery story and not for the prose, until round about the letter G, when I found the stories as lackluster as the writing and gave up. I found the same to be true here. The story is engaging, it moves along quickly and chapters are short which makes it good reading on the commute, but it was all quite superficial, with about the same depth of a good action movie script. (Again, I hate to always bring this up, but I obviously filter a lot of what I read through the “would this make a good movie?” filter, and this one comes up a big yes. Watch out Lara Croft!)
I found some of the cleverness backfired. There were a few points in the book when I stopped and said to myself, “Huh? Did I just miss something?” Interesting issues would be raised and foreshadowing elements put in place that were abandoned or never explained, which I found quite unsatisfying.
So, that being said, I probably will read the next book in the series. I like the premise enough to give it another try, though I won’t keep with it until the letter “G” at this rate. [**1/2]