So many friend reviews of this book—and so many opinions! It seems that The Eyre Affair is one of those books that some people love on first sight and others find incredibly tedious, confusing, or just unbelievable. I see elements of both, and so, more often than I would like, I find myself on the fence with these polarizing reads. It’s not a position I see as superior—if anything it smacks of indecision to me. As much as I might like to slap two stars or four stars on this book, though, I can’t. We’re settling for three, here, people, and let me tell you why.
On one hand, this is a book of postmodern literary genius. It’s a bit of an absurdist romp, Wodehouse meets Douglas Adams meets Nick Harkaway. There’s a delightful energy to the pacing, which isn’t quite breathless but has a kind of whistle-stop quality to it. Nevertheless, you don’t feel like you’re on rails—the stakes are genuine, at at a couple of points I had to put the book down to puzzle out how Thursday might get out of this scrape (only for a deus ex machina of one kind or another, but more on that in a moment).
Jasper Fforde clearly has a massive hard-on for literature—but don’t we all? Love of books and reading suffuses this novel like the rank odour of Harry Potter fans camped out in a bookstore for the release of The Deathly Hallows. In this alternative 1985, people are inconceivably obsessed with books. Most everyone has a hard stance on the question of Shakespearean authorship, and Thursday’s hometown of Swindon boasts an ongoing weekly audience-run production of Richard III. The Crimean War never ended, but that’s OK, because the mysterious Goliath Corporation helped win the Second World War but is now secretly running the place.
And there’s time travel and animal cloning and transportation into books via portals.
Seriously, I cannot describe how utterly absurd this book is. I read some pretty bonkers things about it before I took the plunge, and none of that prepared me for the sheer delight of falling into these pages and being swept up by the pure power of Fforde’s prose. You just have to shrug and go with it. None of it makes sense, but it all kind of feels right—like a Kevin Smith movie, if you surgically remove those last vestiges of plot.
Oh, right, I had another hand around here somewhere….
See, The Eyre Affair is annoying at times. Most absurdist literature is, simply by dint of its construction. And that’s probably why many people don’t enjoy it, and why so many people who enjoy some absurdist stories don’t like others. As much as I love Fforde’s alternative 1985, the characters do very little for me. They are mostly weird, shallow, one-dimensional beings—and frankly, kind of creepy. In fact, they feel almost like characters in a story. And that’s kind of the last thing I want from characters in a story. It’s just too real, you know? And that’s so fake.
Part of me while reading this just kept thinking, why am I not re-reading The Gone-Away World? It’s a fantastic, similarly nonsensical book that includes people who aren’t real and mysterious government/corporate interference, and a never-ending war.
And I’m going to end this review here, because that’s about it. The Eyre Affair is really fun, but it’s fun like some amusement park rides: you’re great as long as you stay on it, and the moment you get off, your stomach catches up with you. I’m glad I didn’t jump at taking the rest of the series out of the library when I got this book—while I might read the sequels at some point, I’m largely indifferent to if I learn more about Thursday Next.
But if you should happen to see a book character walking around….