Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Eyre Affair: Jasper Fforde, June 18—27, 2014
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
The first in the Thursday Next series, The Eyre Affair introduces us to an alternative 1980’s England in which, among many other differences, literature forms such a massive part of society that there is even a branch of SpecOps dedicated to it: LiteraTech. It is to this department that Thursday Next belongs.
The central plot concerns the transposition of people from the real world, such as it is, into works of fiction and vice versa. Havoc wreaked by real people in fictional worlds causes manuscripts to alter, culminating in what the title and blurb reveal as being the kidnap of Jane Eyre.
It’s an exciting concept, and particularly well handled in that no prior knowledge of the Brönte work is required to follow the storyline, although her fans will appreciate the more subtle homages, such as Next’s first person description arising from a look in the mirror.
Next is not an atypical heroine; many of the usual elements exist. She’s single, immensely talented, has a painful back story, yada yada yada. She’s likeable enough but nothing out of the ordinary.
Some of the supporting cast are much better. Acheron Hades, the principal villain, is dramatic and deliberately theatrical, and generally a fun baddie you love to hate. The Goliath operative Jack Schitt is malevolent and creepy, playing his part well. And Next’s uncle Mycroft utterly excels as the nutty professor with undoubtedly some of the funniest scenes to his name.
The problem comes from the myriad of sub plots and extra characters that are given undue prominence. Minor characters are given the same level of introduction as the core supporting cast, leading to confusion as to who we should be investing in. Meanwhile, Next appears almost schizophrenic in her separatist lifestyle. Her agonising personal life is forgotten at work; her all consuming case doesn’t cross her mind later in the day while out on a date. It’s almost like following two characters with their own stories who share a name.
The other problem is in the narration itself. For some reason, it’s in first person as told by Next. However, there are numerous scenes in which Next does not appear and about which she had no knowledge on her next featuring. Is this a separate, third person narrator taking over? Or is this Next after the event, filling in conversations she now knows word for word? It’s at best contrived and at worst plain confusing, while Next’s first person seldom gives any insight an omniscient third person narrator couldn’t muster. It’s an odd and inappropriate choice.
The denouement comes with relative satisfaction. Though I’d guessed how the Hades storyline would end, I wasn’t unhappy with it. A few things seemed to be hastily written off but on the whole there’s a clear train of thought.
In all, although some elements might have been executed better, Fforde has presented an exciting concept and an entertaining read. The titular Eyre affair takes up relatively little time, but hopefully future instalments will need to spend less time on orientation into this world and allow us to continue to discover its enthralling possibilities.