Forget everything you know.
There is another 1985. Another England where the Crimea War never ended, questions of Shakespearean authorship can inspire gang warfare and anyone can genetically engineer their very own pet dodo. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the world of Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’.
Meet Thursday Next, literary detective on the trail of the century’s biggest criminal mastermind. Acheron Hades’ latest scheme is the capture and ransom of the best-loved characters in English literature and, after a minor fling with Dickens, Jane Eyre becomes his next victim. In the midst of trying to foil Hades’ plans Thursday must also choose sides as political discussions of the Crimea War rage, and win back the love of her life, Landen Park-Laine.
This crazy book spans sci-fi, hard-boiled mystery, thriller and romance with lashings of Monty Python-esque humour for good measure. The writing is irreverent and dry, the humour creative and witty, without ever feeling forced.
I handed the manual and poem to Mycroft, who swiftly set about opening the door to ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’ . . . In a few moments the Prose Portal reopened and Mycroft rushed inside, returning shortly afterwards clutching Polly by the hand; she was holding a bunch of daffodils and trying to explain something.
‘We were just talking, Crofty, my love! You don’t think I would be interested in a dead poet, do you?’
Fforde writes his female protagonist with ease, giving a much-needed female protagonist whose romantic interests don’t exceed the actual case. Thursday is strong, sharp and capable, yet still remains entirely human for the reader throughout. Whilst there are some weaknesses in the romantic plotline these are easily accounted for by its secondary status to the main thriller.
The overall effect is a book that is a true pleasure to read – a break from the norm and a comically joyful romp that focuses on the pure pleasure of literature. In one particular scene, Thursday goes to see a production of Richard III where the cast is played by members of the audience and the drama is punctuated with audience interaction. The book itself reads in much the same way. It draws on some of the greatest English literature and focuses on the audience’s personal connection, rather than the prestige of the work.
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