The Eyre Affair is the debut novel by Jasper Fforde, a mystery/fantasy/literary humour rich book set in England in an alternative version of the 1980s. England is virtually run by a megacorporation called Goliath, at war with Russia over the Crimea, at odds with a separate and socialist Wales, and has a Special Operations Network with Divisions that are in charge of regulating time, literature and supernatural being. It is a very different England, but classic English literature is the same but taken very, very seriously.
The lead character is Thursday Next, a clever LiteraTec who is pursuing the third most wanted man in England, Acheron Hades. He seems to have supernatural powers, a boundless intellect, and a gleeful lack of morals. As the barrier between literature and real life is very thin in Fforde’s novel, Hades is able to take Jane Eyre hostage, changing the story and demanding a ransom for her safe return to the novel. Next is a bit distracted by an old love affair, as well as some family complications.
The plot is complicated, but moves ahead briskly, with most of the characters generally kind of cartoonish and cliche. Thursday Next is a charming character, however, and is tough, fun, smart and ambitious. Some of the supporting characters seem to drift in and out of the story, and it is obvious that Fforde was intending this to be the first in a series. The book is commonly compared to some of Douglas Adams’ work, but I felt the sense of humour was similar in spots to that found in Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series. I found it to be witty and compelling, if a bit dense with quite a few of the plot lines left dangling. I am looking forward to reading the remainder of the series.