Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone beings kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Bronte’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter a novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.
Spoilers for Jane Eyre and The Eyre Affair below! You’ve been warned! Turn back now or deal with the consequences.
Did anyone else have to read Jane Eyre in high school?
I’ll admit, my first sojourn into Jane’s world and Thorton Hall wasn’t all that impressive to my teenage self. I wanted action, adventure, explosions! Instead I got one paragraph describing a raging inferno.
My second crack at it came in college. After a few literary classes under my belt, I could better appreciate the novel for the masterpiece that it is. And then again, in grad school, one of my cohorts ended up writing a wonderful seminar paper on movement and walking as a form of agency within the narrative and I dived once again into Jane’s story as I helped my friend proofread and edit her paper.
All that to say, I’m no stranger to Jane Eyre.
Which is one of the main reasons I picked up Jasper Fforde’s novel. I mean Jane, kidnapped? Plucked from the novel? Held hostage??
Sign me up.
Fforde sets a fantastical London as the backdrop of Thursday Next’s perilous adventure as she rushes to save Jane from the vile machinations of the villainous Hades. We have time-travel, dodos, delightful arguments concerning the rightful author of Shakespeare’s plays, vampires, werewolves, and a slew of other insane elements that make me giddy just to contemplate. His world building was one of the things I most loved about the novel. It’s so layered and detailed, with all the elements, seemingly random at first, coming together in a beautiful tapestry.
The Crimea War they keep mentioning? It comes back in a big way at the end.
Japanese tourists seemingly added at random for a bit of flavor? Yeah, they’re important.
Rabid conversations about the true author behind Shakespeare’s well-known plays? Wonderfully addressed at the end.
Time travel? Heck yes.
Fforde couldn’t build such a detailed world without excellent writing, which he delivers in spades. His details pull me deeply into the story, to the point where it feels like I have to swim up through a pool whenever I’m jerked out of it. He’s ability to engage the reader, to weave his story, is exceptional. He’s a master storyteller, his word choice sublime, and after reading just one of his books, I’m confident I’ll enjoy any that he pens.
My only critique with the book concerns the pacing. After finishing, I can see why he chose to start the narrative where he did, but I felt frustrated at the beginning, wondering when we would reach the part concerning Jane Eyre. She, and the cast of characters connected with her, were teased, but we didn’t reach the actual Eyre Affair until much later in the novel.
Overall though, I greatly enjoyed the book, and look forward to continuing Thursday’s adventures. It receives a resounding 4.5 out of 5 stars!