This review is part of the Hodderscape Review Project. The first of twelve.
I remember vividly reading a review of The Eyre Affair in the Times’ book section, one Saturday over ten years ago. It sounded like nothing I’d ever read. It sounded like something I had to read. By the end of that weekend I had tracked down a copy. By the end of that week, I’d finished it.
It was (as my son had to say in last year’s nativity) astounding, astonishing, amazing. I loved it from start to finish. With its alternate universe, ridiculous names and time-bending structure it was fresh, original and very, very funny. It was also divisive. A friend of mine, read the same review, made the same purchase, but hated the book. Couldn’t understand it, didn’t see the point, couldn’t stand the stupid names. I haven’t seen him since 2002.
Much like The Princess Bride, you either get The Eyre Affair or you don’t. I have a theory that people who don’t like the Princess Bride, probably aren’t going to be worth knowing, and whilst I wouldn’t quite make liking The Eyre Affair a criteria for friendship, if you didn’t, I’d view you with deep suspicion.
So ten years on. There are now 7 Thursday Next novels, and Fforde has written books for at least 3 other series. The Eyre Affair propelled him to literary success and rightly so, but how had his original stood the test of time?
Fforde’s decision to set the novel in an alternate 1985, has made the novel largely future proof. By setting the novel in the past, Fforde has avoided using pop culture references that would date. A good job, as the advent of the e-book and smartphones would have transformed the world in which the Literatecs live. Apart from a reference to flying toasters that won’t mean much to some readers, I didn’t notice any obsolete descriptions.
The novel is essentially a locked room mystery with added bells and whistles. It’s set in an alternate reality in which the dodo has been resurrected, England is at war with Russia and Wales is a communist republic. Literature is at the heart of society. Arcade machines quote Shakespeare and children collect author stickers like they’re Premiership footballers. As the book opens, the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen.
Dastardly criminal, Acheron Hades is the prime suspect, a man who doesn’t show up on cameras and who can convince police officers to turn their guns on themselves. Enter our hero Thursday Next, a literary detective and veteran of the Crimean War.
I found The Eyre Affair to be as entertaining as I’d remembered. Over successive novels Fforde has sometimes struggled to keep his ideas fresh. His world is quirky and clever, but some of its stock jokes can grate when overused. But in this book Fforde has the balance pretty much spot on. The central mystery is entertaining, the concept engaging and the setting fascinating, particularly if you are bibliophile like me. Thursday and her supporting cast have stood up well in the years since their creation, and the Eyre Affair remains one of the most innovative creations of modern speculative fiction.
Many thanks to Anne at Hodderscape for inviting me to join the review project.
When reading The Eyre Affair I used a new micro-blogging tool called Thought Streams. This is a new experiment for me and I’m not sure of the best way to utilise it, but if you do want to look at my Eyre Affair stream, click here.