Jasper Fforde,
The Eyre Affair
(Viking, 2001)

Imagine a world where cloning is so commonplace that cloning kits are as popular as chemistry sets, that time travel is old hat and that polite gentlemen knock on doors advocating the theory that Francis Bacon really wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. Now imagine that in this same world, literature is far more important than the drivel on television, to the point that people legally change their names to that of their favorite poet, and bombings occur over literary arguments. In this world, the Crimean War, which ended in our world in 1856, has raged on for 113 years, and the banana was named for the geneticist who first engineered it. And now imagine that it is 1985.

Got all that? Then welcome to the world of Thursday Next, Special Operative and Literary Detective. Thursday is the heroine of Jasper Fforde's first novel, The Eyre Affair.

When Thursday is approached by Spec-Ops 5 to help out with a case, she gladly agrees. It seems that they are looking for a man that only she can identify as everyone else who knows him or has seen him is dead. Acheron Hades, doomed by his very name to be a villain, had been her teacher at university -- and had tried to take their relationship beyond that of teacher and student. But when the case takes a terrible and deadly turn, Thursday finds herself, after leaving the hospital, taking a quiet job as a Literatec (literary detective) in her hometown of Swindon.

And then Jane Eyre is kidnapped right from the pages of her novel. Thursday has a special affinity for Charlotte Bronte's novel, which she accidentally entered as a young child. There she met Edward Rochester, who loved Miss Eyre, but lost her when she went to India as a missionary with her cousin, St. John Rivers -- an ending that no one was ever satisfied with. All of England is horrified by Miss Eyre's sudden disappearance, for with her gone, the book turns blank. Thursday knows that Hades is the culprit and so begins a desperate search to find him that will lead from Swindon into the very pages of Jane Eyre itself.

Jasper Fforde has crafted an amazing world in The Eyre Affair. Details such as time travel and cloning, as well as Thursday's Uncle Mycroft's mad inventions, are handled so manner-of-factly that they lend credence to his setting. And setting the final action of the chase for Acheron in the pages of Jane Eyre is really a stroke of genius. The characters, too, are engaging, from Thursday herself, with her strong anti-war views and willingness to do What Must Be Done, to her father, a rogue ChronoGuard who keeps popping in from time to time (sorry), once stopping time literally at the last second before Thursday gets shot.

The Eyre Affair is a fascinating -- and totally satisfying -- mix of science fiction, mystery and adventure, with a touch of horror and just a hint of romance thrown in for good measure. I can't wait until Thursday Next's next adventure.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 2 March 2002

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