by Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Penguin USA
Pub. Date: February 2003
If Kurt Vonnegut, Mel Brooks, Agatha Christie, Anne Rice and Dr. Hurley (my college English professor) had a literary love child it would look quite similar to "The Eyre Affair" an uproarious read-in-one-sitting ride by Japer Fforde. The novel is set in the eighties, but don't let a fear of tube socks and Gary Coleman keep you away from reading this book, because it's not our eighties, but rather an of entirely new world, one that, like Billy Pilgrim, has become unstuck in time. The world that Thursday Next, a Special Operative for literary detection, inhabits is a strange upside down version of what a college intellectual might think of as utopia, a world where literature and intellect is everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. Shakespearian ranks with Catholicism, and instead of insistent Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door, you will find adamant Baconians or Marlovians, that will claim, armed with pamphlets, our genius Will was hardly a genius at all. It's a world where violent gangs stab each other on the streets, Surrealists attacking Impressionists (think West Side Story meets Art History Class). It's a world where resurrected dodos are the popular pets, and the government agencies are so secret that not even members of them know what they are.
Fforde's story thrives due to many things, the first being his ability to create vivid distinct characters whose interactions, no matter how brief they might be, are laid out along the pristine plot like perfect latticework. The second reason Fforde's imaginary world is so compelling is in its brilliant parody of our society. The government always seems slightly confused while a large corporation is really running the country. A war has been going on for 131 years only ten of which involved actual fighting, and no one seems to remember why it started. Murders, riots, overly aggressive media, blood-sucking vampire janitors, literary characters being captured and killed, a man's face being passed down from generation to generation (literally) and all this in a comedy? Fforde's novel does what many cannot, and that is avoid concrete classification. Call it a mystery, an adventure, a satire, a science fiction, a tale with more turns that a stomach after Taco Bell…
The only thing that disturbed me was the cover of the book which proudly had a tag that proclaimed "A Thursday Next Novel". Too many authors have taken brilliant story ideas and beat them into the ground by persistent use of the same protagonist. Where is the suspense in a Miss Marple tale? Agatha Christie might be one of the greatest mystery writers ever (See "And Then There Were None" if you disagree) but there is never a doubt, reading a Miss Marple, that the frumpy old detective is going to solve the crime and of course, come out of it scratch free. I fear "Thursday" will become the next in a mass market lineup of predictable detectives, turning what is now a heroine whose wit, faults, and intellect rank up with the Jane Eyre she intends to save in this novel, into a mere caricature of the invincible feisty female cop. If I want that I'll just watch the WB. Fforde if you are reading this, you've done good, no you've done GREAT…now please slowly step away from the book.