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Book Review : The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Friday, 5 June 2009

I enjoyed this, but not as much as I expected to.

Jasper Fforde’s books have a host of promising plot elements : humour, intrigue, imagination and an obsession with the literary. Most strikingly, there is the “speculative” notion that characters from fiction and reality can interact. Effectively, thanks to the “prose portal”, books become alternative worlds into which real characters can stray. It’s a familiar enough affectation (I could point to my own short story Lost in a Good Book), but a lovely one.

In this book, Thursday Next, the heroine, has to deal with the efforts of ye archetypal baddie to corrupt first Martin Chuzzlewit and then Jane Eyre. The conceit is that if you “get inside” the original manuscript and change events then, erm, all other copies of the book will change too. There’s some time-travel going on too, perhaps in an attempt to suggest how this could actually happen.

The world in which Fforde sets events is based on contemporary Britain, but it’s very different place in some ways. Jane Eyre, for example, has a different ending, where Rochester doesn’t marry Jane. Thursday, as well as pursuing her villain, manages to alter the text of the book to one that will be more familiar. It’s a sweet idea.

Still, as I say, the book didn’t grab me as much as I thought it would. It was often, for some reason I can’t put my finger on, rather dull. You know when you find yourself rereading a paragraph for the third time because your attention has wandered? That kept happening. Perhaps it’s just me. Also I kept spotting POV (point of view) bugs. The book is written in the first person (like Jane Eyre) but a few times the narrative strayed into omniscience before snapping back into first-person when Thursday showed up. Odd. Perhaps it’s some literary joke I’m missing.

But, an entertaining enough read. I’ll certainly seek out the others some time.


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