For the first half of the novel, one might have asked if it had the wrong name, but by the time the book ends, one can probably agree that “The Eyre Affair” is at least as good a title as any. “The Eyre Affair” is Jasper Fforde’s first novel, which was published in July of 2001. Fforde creates an alternate world, with many similarities to go with some glaring differences, keeping the reader off-balance, yet strangely at home at the same time. Combining alternate reality, with spy thriller, with mystery, with some literary classics, this unusual book makes for a most unique and enjoyable experience. As I have not, as of yet, read any of the sequels in the series, I cannot speak for how well it holds up, but I can easily recommend this one.
The setting of this novel is in a world very much like our own, but with some bizarre twists. In no particular order, this would include recreating Dodos and cloning them for pets, never-ending discussions about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays (of course this happens in our world, but not to this extent), Wales as a socialist republic, and an ongoing Crimean War. Our heroine is Thursday Next, a Literary Detective (SO-27) one of 30 departments of Special Operations to handle various areas of police work. The top 20 departments are restricted, i.e. they are known to exist, but only in a few cases do people know what they actually do.
In addition to the alternate reality, there is an unusual family and personal life to deal with. Thursday’s father was a Colonel in the ChronoGuard, but had turned rogue and is being chased by his former colleagues. He has a habit of dropping in on Thursday and halting time when he does so. Her uncle likes to invent things, including a device which allows people to enter works of literature (this has happened accidentally to some people, including Thursday, but this allows the person to pick the time and the place). Her brother, like Thursday, was in the Crimean War, but unlike her, he was killed. The man she loves, Landon Parke-Laine, who gave testimony which led to her brother being blamed for a mistake which caused a tremendous loss of life during an important battle.
Thursday is temporarily assigned to SO-5 to deal with a super-criminal, Acheron Hades, a man she had the misfortune to meet many years ago, and she is one of the few to have ever seen him in person. He is known to have special powers, including the ability to avoid being seen on camera, and he is able to confuse even Special Operations agents to the point where he is able to escape, usually after killing the agent whose trust he has gained. Thursday has been called in because Acheron is believed to have stolen the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit. The story follows Thursday as she follows, sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially, Hades and it takes her through time paradoxes, kidnappings, government bureaucracy, the war and peace movements, and of course into Jane Eyre
With all the strange inventions, and odd plotlines, it was somewhat disappointing that the end was rather predictable, but it was still very fun to read. Thursday and her family make for wonderful characters, and Hades was a great villain. Many of the other characters are somewhat two-dimensional, but one needs a few normal people to play against. This novel is far from perfect, but if you are in the mood for some crazy adventure and have run out of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, this is one you may want to give a try.