Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair takes its readers to a parallel universe. Shadowy special operatives do battle against sinister supernatural forces, the all-powerful Goliath Corporation controls the levers of power, England and Russia have been waging a war in the Crimea for 131 years, Wales is a Socialist Republic glowering behind an almost impenetrable border, and regenerated dodos make affectionate and intelligent household pets. The ChronoGuard, a highly secretive Special Operative group, zips back and forth through time, tweaking events in the distant past and future, and dealing with occasional rents in the fabric of the universe. Life is entirely unpredictable.
Everyone is fiercely passionate about literature and art. Questions about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays are hotly debated in hallways and pubs. John Milton conventions attract hundreds of identically dressed devotees. Raphaelites and Surrealists fight out their differences in violent bar brawls.
In this bizarre but oddly familiar world, we find ourselves in 1980s England, following the adventures of Thursday Next. She’s a veteran of the Crimea, the daughter of a rogue ChronoGuard agent, a respected literary detective and courageous defender of the written word. She’s also a little bit reckless, doesn’t think before acting, and has been dreadfully unlucky in love. All of which makes her a wonderful, believable and vulnerable heroine.
Her nemesis is doing his best to prevent her surviving to the end of the book. He is Acheron Hades, an innately evil, monstrous man, made all the more dangerous by his supernatural edge. He cuts a swathe of murder and mayhem through the storyline, although always in a detached and professional style – the reader is spared any gory detail.
A masterfully paced plot immerses us in mystery and suspense against a fantastical, satirical background where anything can happen. There’s a little bit of everything: comedy, wild car chases, ironic backstories, and dramatic shoot-outs merge seamlessly with clever literary references and thoughtful musings on the pointlessness of war.
The idea of jumping into one’s favourite novel and observing the characters first hand is fabulously appealing. The Eyre Affair will enthral anyone who loves books, and might just tempt you to read (or at least watch) Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece too.
I imagine that “The Eyre Affair” began as a riff on that seminal dream of every passionate reader, the desire to step into the universe of a favorite book, but given Fforde’s prodigious powers of invention, where Thursday’s further adventures will take her is anybody’s guess.
Laura Miller, Salon.com, January 2002
Reading a truly good book, the page opens like a trapdoor and you simply fall through. The Eyre Affair takes that feeling, the moment you lose the sense of yourself and become engrossed in the story, and creates high adventure and wild drama around the porous boundaries between fiction and real life.
Mary Hamilton, The Guardian book blog, August 2011
Fforde gently pokes fun at canonical literature's highbrow status and reminds readers that the classics are not just regal old chestnuts for decorating the bookshelves; they are living, breathing tales that remain as exhilarating and vibrant as they were when they were first released.