Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Well Thumbed Book: The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is impossible to describe.  It’s true—I’m not just saying that because it’s one of those books that the publisher calls “genre-defying” or because it has such a complex plot.  Fforde himself can’t adequately describe the novel, and he wrote it.  He received seventy-six rejections from literary agents before he finally found an agent willing to take on the manuscript without first reading a plot summary. That agent was hooked from the first chapter -- as I was.

Nevertheless, this is a book review, and you’re probably reading this column because you'd like to know what the recommended book is about.  So I shall do my best. 

The Eyre Affair is a sci-fi detective novel set in a world where great works of literature supply the stuff of pop culture. When people attend a midnight show to quote all the lines in unison, it’s not The Rocky Horror Picture Show – it’s Hamlet that packs them in.

Thursday Next is a detective in the Special Operations Network’s Literary Division.  Her uncle, Mycroft, has built a Prose Portal, which allows people to travel into the world of any novel they choose.  When someone kidnaps Mycroft and starts to remove characters from novels, that brings about changes in all the copies of those novels in print -- and enrages the literary-loving public.  It’s up to Thursday Next to solve the case and stop the perpetrator.

Jasper Fforde has a flair for tossing off non sequiturs and seamlessly embedding them in the novel.  For example, the book happens to be set in an alternate England where the Crimean War (between England and Russia in the 1850s) never ended.  Fforde throws in time-travel, pet cloned dodos, and other nonsense elements that make for a riotous read. 

If you like detective fiction, literary fiction, science fiction, parody, suspense and slapstick, and you can imagine them all mashed together in one clever and very funny novel, then this is the book for you.


Karen Adler is a student at Tufts University, where she is also a writing tutor and Content Editor of the Tufts Roundtable magazine, a journal of political debate and ideas. She grew up in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, and was a frequent visitor to Politics & Prose in North Cleveland Park, Borders in Friendship Heights, and Barnes & Noble in Georgetown. She is always reading at least one book, if not two or three at once, and loves to recommend books to anyone and everyone.

The Well-Thumbed Book each week presents a recommendation for a book that may or may not have been a bestseller when it first came out, but which (in this reviewer's opinion) deserves to find a wide, ongoing, and appreciative readership.

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