The Jane Austen Society of Australia
<< Back to Book Reviews: Contents
The Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde
New English Library, Hodder & Stoughton, 2001 A$4.95
There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where ‘Thursday Next’ is a literary detective without equal, fear or boyfriend. Thursday is on the trail of the villainous Acheron Hades, who has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre herself has been plucked from the novel of the same name and Thursday must find a way into the book to repair the damage.
So begins the blurb on the back of this fascinating paperback, found languishing on a For Sale table priced at a ridiculous $4.95. I had not heard of the author but a biographical note told me that he lives and writes in Wales and has ‘just traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page’. This is his first novel, although he has been writing ‘purely for his own enjoyment for the past 10 years’.
Imagine an amalgamation of Alice in Wonderland, the Goon Show, Edward Lear, James Bond and Dr Who and you might get some idea of the flavour of this most original and amusing work. The heroine, Thursday Next, is a veteran of the Crimean War (still going in 1985), she has a pet dodo named Pickwick, left over from a period ‘when reverse extinction was all the rage and you could buy cloning kits over the counter’; she consorts with such characters as ‘Spike’ Stoker, an officer with Spec Ops 17 – Vampire and Werewolf Disposal, and has an uncle who has bred genetically programmed bookworms. These bookworms perform interesting feats and at one stage are overheard discussing Mansfield Park and speculating as to how Sir Thomas Bertram made all his money.
When the story begins, Thursday has been brought in to retrieve the manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit, which has been stolen by Acheron Hades, who is threatening to kill Dickens’ hero. It seems that he was forced to study Martin Chuzzlewit for his O levels and couldn’t stand him. Security has been stepped up all around the country following an incident where a deranged individual broke into Chawton Cottage, threatening to burn all Jane Austen’s letters unless his ‘frankly dull & uneven biography’ was published. Eventually Hades loses interest in Chuzzlewit and turns his attention to Charlotte Brontë, kidnapping Jane Eyre. Our heroine must find her way into the book to repair the damage. She succeeds but the outcome is not exactly what the public expected.
The Eyre Affair is full of clever and amusing literary references and I think that Jasper Fforde has made an excellent job of ‘arranging words on a page’. To appreciate this book one needs to be a little mad (in the nicest possible Goon-like way) and I have decided to donate my copy to our Library in the hope that many of our members fall into this category and will be as entertained as I was.