The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

It’s brilliant because it’s bonkers.

Imagine it’s 1985. Now imagine that it’s a different 1985, where the Crimean War is still ongoing, Jane Eyre has an unhappy ending and the X Factor never happened. Oh, and criminal gangs are now moving into literature. (Bear with me, it makes total sense).  Enter Acheron Hades, super-villain extrodinaire who’s managed to kidnap Jane Eyre from the pages of her own novel, to hold her to ransom. It’s Thursday Next’s job to recover Jane, defeat the bad-guy, carry on with the day-job, move to Swindon, find a new car and stop the man she loves from marrying someone else. It’s just a couple of weeks in the life of Literary Detective, Thursday Next.

It’s a bit like Monty Python turned their brand of very British surrealism to the service of literature. It’s one of those books where if you get the references and love literature in general, you’ll be literally laughing all the way through. If you are anything less than crazy about reading, it might not be for you. You have to be a very specific type of nutter to find Baconians turning up on the doorstep like Jehovah’s witnesses funny. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not all nudging and in-jokes. There is a deadly serious undercurrent, courtesy of an absolutely brilliant villain; Acheron Hades is one of those rare villains who is just an evil, credible arch-nemesis, (even if he does have some fairly freaky powers). I don’t know about you, but I get fed up of baddies who have an excuse – you know the type. The ones who were traumatised by a peanut-butter accident when they were ten, or the like.

If you talk about the villain, you must also talk about the hero – even if they’re as reluctant as Thursday Next, (great name, by the way). I suppose you could call her a feminist protagonist in the best sense of the word. She’s not a hairy, angry man-hater, but just an ordinary(-ish) woman doing extraordinary things with a sense of humour, a pet Dodo and a multi-coloured Porsche. Whilst it would have been easy to make Thursday irritatingly wholesome and uncomplicated, Fforde stays his hand from any such nonsense. She has issues, she swears and she can be heart-broken without being paralysed a` la Mariana (hurrah!) Having said that, the award for understated heart-ache scene of the year goes to Fforde, for a poignant film noir pastiche in a hotel bar involving a piano. If you don’t feel heart-strings snapping, I worry for your soul.

It’s as bonkers as box full of frogs doing the can-can, intelligent as the Dictionary and takes you from one extreme to another faster than Jekyll to Hyde on fast-forward. I love it, you might not. 4.95 out of 5, on account of when Mr Rochester appears the style and semantics of his speech are ever so slightly wrong. Hey, what can I say? I’m a picky Jane Eyre fan? Over and out.

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