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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
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Dec 27, 08

bookshelves: fiction, urban-fantasy, science-fiction, derivative-fiction
Read in January, 2006

Okay, this is complicated, so it might take a while. In an alternate England of the 1980’s, literature is bigger than football and a production of Richard III is like a Beatles concert. Thursday E. Next (and others with Rowlingesque names), a literary Detective, becomes embroiled in the struggle between megacorp Goliath and the evil murderer Acheron Hades for her uncle’s latest invention, the Prose Portal, which allows people and things to travel between fiction and reality. It’s a new kind of terrorism when a madman can enter the original manuscript of a Dickens novel and murder a minor character, rewriting every copy in existence. The universe and technology are top notch, from the pet dodo (version 1.4) to the retinal screensaver to the Global Standard Deity to Thursday’s rogue Chronoguard, time hopping father. Thursday’s world is different from ours – Churchill was never Prime Minister, the Crimean War grinds on, and though everyone loves Jane Eyre, no one is really happy with how Jane goes off to India with St. John in the end. This is a book about rewriting – history, time, culture, your life and choices, and in that sense it is damn clever and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I am bothered by many stylistic choices, however, particularly the way every moment of emotional significance is pushed offstage and dealt with only in the tiny excerpts from characters’ memoirs and other fictional books at the beginning of each chapter. Just because it’s metafiction, it doesn’t mean it can’t be good fiction, too, and there really is no excuse for this.

More broadly speaking, all the fictional characters within the fiction, like Mr. Rochester, are explicitly aware that they are in a book and behave accordingly, and it took me a while to realize that Thursday, our narrator, operates similarly. I just don’t really dig that kind of consciousness – it’s ironic that a book which is all about sliding through the border into fiction is written in such a way to make doing so as a reader nearly impossible (aside from some of the emotional dampening, Fforde violates the first person narration in wild and distractingly strange ways). And what was up with the random vampire not-even-a-subplot?

Complaints aside, and all except the random vampires are really products of my strong personal tastes, I liked this a whole lot. It’s quirky and clever and fun, and I’ll definitely be carrying on with the series.

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