Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cannonball Read #8: The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Who hasn't imagined what it would be like to interact with a living breathing incarnation of their favorite literary characters? As a child I would have given my Color Kid collection and my Skip-it to have churned butter with Laura Ingalls and Ma, to have attended Queens College with Anne Shirley, and to have created a Kid Kit with Claudia Kishi and Mary Anne Spier. Now I spend my days wishing I could shave yaks and search for the three wise men with Joshua and Biff, explore London Below with Richard Mayhew, attend Herbology class with Ron and Harry, and, well, cut Bella Swan's heart out with a spoon (it's dull, you twit, it'll hurt more). I may never have the chance, but these fantasies could be an actual reality to Thursday Next, Fforde's leading lady in this the first book of the series.

Thursday is a literary detective in a fictional England, where a seemingly unending Crimean War continues and books are debated as hotly as politics. As the battles rage on, a sinister murderer/thief/former professor/doer of naughty deeds named Acheron Hades has stolen the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit. This may not seem like the most heinous crime imaginable, but Thursday's uncle Mycroft has created a device named the Prose Portal, one which enables a person to walk into any novel or work of fiction. By stealing the original manuscript and kidnapping Mycroft, Hades now has the potential to permanently alter the course of the action in the book and that in all of its subsequent copies. There is a TON of plot in this book and I don't want to give too much away, but eventually the original copy of Jane Eyre and its inhabitants are in grave danger and its up to Thursday to save Charlotte Brontë's quintessential novel.

Fforde has a wonderful grasp of his heroine and manages to keep the narrative flowly quickly. Too quickly at times, the one word that keeps popping in my head when trying to describe this book is "manic." But it's beyond fun to see how he interweaves the mystery of the missing manuscript with his own version of Jane and Rochester. It must be a daunting task to write two of the most well-known fictional characters into your own story, but Fforde's obvious love of literature and his quirky sense of humor make the retelling feel seamless. And Thursday is pretty fascinating, a well-layered and headstrong woman in a book comprised mainly of headstrong men. It's interesting to see the differing opportunities afforded to both Thursday and Jane Eyre. Thursday emulates Jane in certain ways: her stubborness, her intelligence, her straightforward way of dealing with others. And yet Jane has so many limitations due to her class and the century in which she lives, it's almost as if Thursday is a near reincarnation of her.

I must admit, my favorite parts of the book were those that featured Rochester and Jane, but that's because I'm an English major geek who gets her jollies from literary allusions. This was a breezy read and a great diversion-I'll definitely be checking out the second installment of Thursday's adventures. Maybe the next one will feature Atticus Finch. :crosses fingers:


Nicole said...

I have them all; you may borrow at will.

"I'm an English major geek who gets her jollies from literary allusions."

I think that's one of the things I love most about the books - I get all the little inside jokes because I was exposed to so many of the novels throughout school.

P.S. - Jack Schitt is one scary mofo.

Julie said...

He is indeed!

belleshpgrl said...

You should check out his other series, The Nursery Crime stories. They are just as colorful and full of allusions. The first one is The Big Over Easy.