Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde


Imagine an England where literature is held in the highest esteem. There's a thriving black market in forged manuscripts, and crimes against literature merit their own Special Operations police department. Thursday Next works for SO-27, rooting out book crime in this eccentric version of 1985.

The Crimean War is still raging and it has left its scars on Thursday. She lost a brother in the conflict. Although it was a decade ago she still can't forgive the man she was engaged to marry, Landen Parke-Laine, for what happened. It looks like they'll never get back together and Thursday is likely to remain single for the rest of her life. Thursday's father, a rogue ChronoGuard operative who can stop time at will, is on the run and rarely sees his family. Wales has become a republic, and the sinister Goliath corporation is practically running the country. Repression is the dominant feature of society. So although reading is very popular this version of reality is far from a utopia.

This bizarre background is the setting for the theft of the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit. Thursday is on the case but the notorious crook Acheron Hades is implicated. He's a brutal mass-murderer who seems to be immune to bullets. Hades has no conscience to speak of and a number of supernatural powers, so stopping him is a dangerous business. But what does he want with the works of Dickens?

This is a world where the boundaries between fact and fiction are extremely blurred. Changing the text on an original manuscript can change all the copies, and it's possible to kidnap characters from fiction as if they were real people. Stories come alive and have real power to change things in The Eyre Affair. It's barmy, and at the same time very funny. Thursday's family includes her odd Uncle Mycroft who is always inventing crazy things, and her brother Joffy who is an Irreverend at the church for the Global Standard Deity. Punning names and strange goings-on evoke a kind of carnival atmosphere, although the book does also have a darker side.

The crisis escalates when Hades sets his sights on Jane Eyre. It's a book Thursday has a special connection with, but Hades threatens to change it utterly. But even though the loss of Jane Eyre's character constitutes a national emergency in this alternative reality, much more is at stake than the LiteraTec operatives first realise.

Thursday is a solid, dependable heroine who balances the chaos around her with a welcome injection of straight-talking sanity. She's likeable because she's brave and she has a refreshing disregard for rules and conventions. The story does presuppose a certain familiarity with some of the classic novels it mentions. This is likely to make it popular with students of English literature, but if you don't know the books in question all that well it doesn't ruin the experience.

This is an absurd, amusing novel, and there's always something unusual happening within its pages. So whilst there's a little bit of mystery, a sprinkling of thriller and a large dollop of love story to its recipe, what comes through above all is its exuberance. Jasper Fforde is as inventive as mad Uncle Mycroft, only he's taken our world and creatively rearranged the pieces into a new version of reality with its own insane logic and many times more charm.

5th April 2011

Book Details

Year: 2001

Categories: Books


  Female Protagonist  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Jasper Fforde