The Eyre Affair
Viking, February, 2002.
Hardcover, 374 pages.
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The Eyre Affair takes place in 1985 Great Britain; but it is a Britain that is slightly different from the one with which readers are familiar. Great literature is the abiding passion of the masses: the true authorship of Shakespeare's plays is hotly debated, Will Speak vending machines dispense speeches from the Bard for a small fee, and children swap Henry Fielding bubble-gum cards with all the enthusiasm usually reserved for the latest pop star. The Crimean War is still dragging on, and the Goliath corporation has its fingers in all aspects of society. When Archeron Hades (the world's third most dangerous criminal) finds a way to step inside the world of books, trouble ensues. Hades kidnaps Jane Eyre from the original manuscript, if Eyre is killed (as Hades did with a minor character from Martin Chuzzlewit) she will be permanently removed from all other copies of the work. Enter the Literary Division of the Special Operations Network (SpecOps) and Special Operative Thursday Next. With the help of her Uncle Mycroft's new invention, the Prose Portal, Thursday is able to travel inside Jane Eyre to try to put things right -- and save all of the world's great literature from disaster. Of course, meddling with a story is bound to produce some changes. And are we sure that the Jane Eyre we know originally had a happy ending before Thursday Next intervened?
The Eyre Affair is a detective thriller with an wonderful alternate history twist. Jasper Fforde takes the familiar and weaves in the unfamiliar, with hilarious results. Thursday Next, the operative who must stop an act of heinous literary homicide is a delight. She's competent, intelligent, and perhaps just a little neurotic about her love life. Archeron Hades is a delightful villain, and Thursday's father (who is some kind of secret operative himself) pops in from time to time (literally -- he is quite the time traveler) to give some usually unhelpful fatherly advice. Thursday's Uncle Mycroft is quite the mad scientist, and his inventions are always causing trouble. Although the literary references fly thick and fast, you really don't have to have a Master's degree in English lit to have a rollicking good time in this well-conceived and witty thriller. Jasper Fforde is a major new talent, who is just coming to the notice of American audiences. His work is fresh, original and immensely entertaining.
--Claire E. White