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"The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think." This statement just about sums up "The Eyre Affair," a bizarre blend of mystery, fantasy, alternate universe novel, satire, and a dash of horror and scifi. With its likeable heroine and delightful plot, this is one that bibliophiles will drool over. It's sort of as if Terry Pratchett wrote mysteries.

It takes place an alternate world where the Crimean War has lasted over a century, vampirism and lycanthropy are like diseases, time can be warped, and people can fall in and out of books and plays -- and if it's the original work, it will change all the other copies. Thursday Next is an agent for a special division devoted to literature, and is on the trail of the villainous Acheron Hades after the theft of the manuscript of "Martin Chuzzlewit" by Charles Dickens. To complicate matters more, her old boyfriend Landen has reentered the picture, and the obnoxious Schitt of the powerful Goliath Corporation is following Thursday.

Hades seems to have been killed, but Thursday is almost sure that he isn't. It turns out she's right -- he kidnaps her aunt and "mad as pants" uncle Mycroft Next, who has just made a machine that allows people to wander into pieces of literature. Hades's plot is to use the machine to disrupt literature as we know it. First he kills a minor character from "Martin Chuzzlewit," and then kidnaps Jane Eyre (in this parallel universe, the novel has a very different ending). Thursday Next teams up with the brooding Rochester and an odd bunch of characters to save Jane -- and all the other great works of literature.

This is one of the best-conceived and best-executed ideas in recent years. A lot of readers probably won't understand all of the literary jokes and in-jokes (it sounds snobby, but if you don't get something then just skip it), as well as some that anybody can understand, like the invention of the banana. The idea of high art as pop culture is delightfully done, like the guy with the "Hand of God" tattoo, or the door-to-door Baconian missionaries, or a John Milton convention. Take a sprinkling of real-life pop culture, make it art-inclined, and that's what you get.

One of the best things about this book is that it overflows with promise for sequels in this universe. Time travel, a chilling scene with a lisping vampire, lycanthropy vaccines, and the wealth of literature are all dealt with, but not so thoroughly that it can't be used again. The writing style is spare and fast-moving, sort of like Terry Pratchett's but more detailed. The dialogue is very good, with a lot of good quotables.

Thursday Next is a likable female lead, very hard-boiled, tough and smart, but with a vulnerable side. Uncle Mycroft is just delightful, mad as pants! Acheron Hades is one of those villains who loves evil for its own sake (well, with a name like "Hades," what can you expect?), and people who like a complex reason for a person to be bad won't like him. "I'm just... well, differently moralled, that's all."

Jasper Fforde's first novel is a slightly frothy, book-hopping, tongue-in-cheek novel. It may not be a work of literature equal to "Jane Eyre," but it's a supremely entertaining and promising one.
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on January 11, 2013
What an incredibly fun book, and a great first entry into the Thursday Next series!

I am a huge fan of books about books. It’s very meta, I know, but when you love reading books about books are an added layer of brilliant on an already fun past time. So it was with great glee that I found the Thursday Next series on display at my local bookstore. I was drawn in by the cover art, read the back blurb of one and was instantly drawn in by the phrase “Thursday Next, literary detective”. I mean really, how can you not be intrigued by that premise?

So I bought the first book in the series. I didn’t read it right away. It sat idle for several months. But I picked it up a few weeks ago when another book I was reading just wasn’t cutting it. The Eyre Affair was my hope for respite from a book that had seemed like a chore, and what a lovely respite it was.

I won’t go into too many of the plot details because I don’t want to spoil it for future readers, but the broad view of it is that Thursday’s assistance is required when a well known criminal begins stealing the original manuscripts of a few well known classics and threatens to dangerously and permanently alter them…in a way the reader will not be expecting.

Besides the plot, the small details of the world of Thursday Next are brilliant in and of themselves, and brought me many smiles when I’d come across them. In Thursday’s world Wales is a Socialist country, blocked off from the rest of the world. The dodo bird is no longer extinct (thanks to scientific reproduction), and the characters have names like Braxton Hicks and Jack Schitts.

I highly recommend the Eyre Affair if you are looking for a fun, light read, and especially if you are a lover of books.
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on June 26, 2002
Argh. Argh. Argh.
That's the sound of a man who wanted desperately to like a book being bitterly disappointed. "The Eyre Affair" is a novel with what sounds like an interesting premise, but winds up reading like the bastard love-child of Woody Allen and Douglas Adams.
Of course, my disappointment is largely my own fault. I was sucked in by the jacket copy that sort of promised a romp through Jane Eyre in a world where people could enter works of fiction. For some reason I didn't stop to consider how patently ridiculous that idea is and how bad previous attempts at doing the same thing have been. Woody Allen tried it twice, once in a short piece and again in "Purple Rose of Cairo", and neither was particularly successful, so I don't know why I thought Fforde would be able to do any better.
Actually, I do. It was the protagonist's name: Thursday Next. To come up with a name like that, I thought he must be a genius.
What the jacket does not tell us is that a large portion of the plot hinges on time travel and huge, gaping paradoxes, a la Dirk Gently. Not that I mind such things, I just didn't expect them, and expecting them would have allowed me to suspend that particular logic detection system.
But these quibbles aside, there was a lot to like about "The Eyre Affair". I liked the smug feeling I got from "getting" most of the English Literature references sprinkled throughout. I liked Thursday's dotty old uncle, an inventor who accidentally merengued one of his assistants to death. I liked the idea of a world that treats Shakespeare's Richard III as a "Rocky Horror" costume fest.
Jasper Fforde's storytelling skills are breezy and fun, and he doesn't get too caught up in the cuteness of his own jokes; in fact, some of them are so subtle they hit you a few pages later. The characters are mostly interchangeable, with the exceptions of Thursday's dad, the chronoguardsman, Thursday herself, and Acheron Hades, the villain.
Hades deserves some attention here. He almost works as a bad guy, just for the sheer joy he gets from being a bad guy. But if this were a cartoon, he would be constantly turning to the camera and grinning, saying, "Ain't I evil?", or something equally obvious. This gets old fast and Fforde would do well to arrest it in later installments. Also, we are offered no proper explanation for Hades' powers, which include invisibility and the ability to pass through solid matter. Cool tricks, but the laws of fiction demand we know why he has these powers when no one else does.
I'm not sorry I read this and I wouldn't try to steer you away from it. But I do think you should have your Disbelief switch in the "Suspend" position when you start it. If you can get past the plot holes, you're in for a terrific ride.
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on July 18, 2002
If I were reviewing the paper copy of this novel, I'd be giving it at least 4, maybe 5 stars. It is original, witty, very amusing and the character of Thursday Next, who is the narrative voice of the novel, is very sympathetic.
However, the audio CD is a great disappointment. The abridgement is OK as abridgements go - the chapter headings are omitted which is a shame, as they are very amusing, but apart from that, the omissions aren't noticeable. However, Elizabeth Sastre, is to me, quite amateurish in her reading of this book, particularly when compared with others, such as Stephen Fry's superb renderings of the Harry Potter books. Sastre seems to have huge trouble with individualising her characters, particularly the men, who to me, pretty much sound the same. There seems to be no attempt to analyse the dialogue before she launches into it, making her inflections and expression often wooden and nonsensical, while the main first person narrative loses much in tone. She also pronounces Haworth "Hay-worth", which I have never heard before, despite visiting the place more than once and growing up in the north of England. Of course, it is entirely possible that in this parallel universe Haworth is pronounced differently, but with all the othe problems associated with this audio, this seems to be a decision made on igorance rather than knowledge. To summarise, it sounds as though what has been recorded has been a first, blind, read through rather than something which has been thought through properly.
I avidly read the sequel to "The Eyre Affair." I think that Jasper Fforde is a great writer, and I'll continue to be interested in the saga of Thursday Next. However, I will not be buying the audio version again, if it is still narrated by Elizabeth Sastre.
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on April 27, 2003
Jasper Fforde (is this a real name?--I doubt it!) has put togther a reasonably amusing and workmanlike (workwomanlike?) first novel which we are promised (or warned?) is the first of a series. Fforde explores his/her borrowed premises of 'fact/fiction' and 'time travel' with facility and wit, though many American readers may be baffled by the relentlessly British references and names (how many Yanks know what a Bowden Cable is, for example). Some material is stretched beyond its elastic limit in terms of interest or credibility--consider airships, featured in the book, that could have been explored with far more insight and amusement but are merely tossed in without perspective or apparent information.
Flashes of brilliance and wonderful whimsy are interspersed by plodding and inconsistent use of the language and insufficient descriptive detail which would have enriched the text in a book that has been inflated to its 380-page length with wide margins and 32 lines per page. This is a pity, and might have been avoided by editing--realize, in context, that today's publishers eschew editing and expect the writer not only to be his or her own scrupulous editor and fact-checker but also the typesetter. In the case of Fforde this also gives rise, in the American edition, to confusion about words spelled differently in the UK and US, with 'theatre/theater' as a typical annoying example--make up your bloody mind, woncha? Some of the work obviously needed to be read aloud by the author (see my review of Steve Martin's SHOP GIRL for relevance) to reduce the clunker quotient.
Readers expecting divine inspiration or deep insight will be disappointed. Anyone who expects significant exploration of emotion will come away empty handed. Those who are easily amused or who think that a British author is all knowing about literature and has a corner on satirical wit will keep turning the pages, to dig up yet another analogy or manipulated historical name. Dig, dig, dig, but it never quite gells. The infuriating part about this process is that the promise is there in adbunsance but is never truly delivered. Does this, one cannot help wondering, reflect the experience and intellectual bandwidth of the Viking approval staff (Viking published the book in the US) or do both Penguin and Viking despise their readerships and settle for a lowest-common-denominator contempt for the people they expect to buy their books?
In all, this is a book closely akin to a bag of potato chips. One can't eat just one chip or read just one page, as we all know, but the over-all effect is just slightly 'lite' and hollow. In that sense it clearly matches much current popular entertainment (music, film or 'literature') but will probably sell well to readers who do not ask too much of their authors.
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on May 26, 2004
The reviews I read, the book's description, was intriguing but, I just didn't know if I'd like this. So I picked it up, "The Eyre Affair", and WOW what a great tale! What a really different approach but what an entertaining read! I couldn't put it down. Jasper Fforde has put the fun back into reading and does it with style. If you like mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, or fiction of any kind you'll love the Thursday Next series. If you've read Jane Eyre, you may think that Mr. Fforde has some things wrong at first but patience dear reader, it all becomes clear near the end. I could tell you what the story is about much like my fellow reviewers but truth be known, you won't really appreciate how good it really is til you've read it yourself. I like the description on the book's cover, "Harry Potter for Adults" It is very much like Harry Potter but then not. You could make many comparisons here, but never get it quite right. Fforde has blazed a new tale, and deserves the credit for his discovery of a new fictional territory.
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on April 24, 2003
If the world had never known the Bronte sisters, with their love of language, love of complex heroines and free-growing, uncontrollable landscapes--really, their love of love--would we ever have met their literary descendants, novelists from Victoria Holt to Rosemary Rogers, Anne Rice to Michel Faber? If all humanity has a mitochondrial Eve, then certainly authors have a manuscript Mama, a literary Lucy, if you will.
The time-traveling, rollicking-romance, "wittier than most" novel THE EYRE AFFAIR works on the premise that simple changes or adjustments in a book's plot can rock the interior world as well as the external one. Author Jasper Fforde has a lot of characters, plot points, storylines, puns, and historical accuracies and inaccuracies to juggle. Does he succeed in his Cirque du Soleil style of writing? Let's just say he puts on a marvel of a show, but when all is said and done, the audience has been entertained but has also been distracted by all the flash and sequins, bells and whistles.
Characters emerging from fiction to intermingle with "real" people is nothing new. Woody Allen has tackled the conceit twice: once in his brilliantly funny short story "The Kugelmass Episode" and, of course, in his poignant, comical, and ultimately melancholy movie "The Purple Rose of Cairo." For all his personal flaws, Allen is a tough act to follow, and Fforde doesn't quite fill the New Yorker's shoes.
THE EYRE AFFAIR is a book that is in love with books. Its characters are all manuscript-mad; in fact, the whole parallel universe is besotted by Byron, Milton, Marlowe, and Shakespeare. They trade quips about Quilp and Dickens as readily as we exchange comments about the Yankees and the Mets. (Feel free to fill in your own baseball giants and underdogs.)
As a former journalism and American Literature major, I so wanted to be swept up in the travails of Thursday Next (the novel's courageous and honest heroine) and her private-eye-type escapades. I found it tough going, though, because of the number of sci-fi devices thrown into the mix: time travel, portals into other dimensions, airships, plasma guns, and mad-scientist experiments gone awry.
At its very best, this book is a delight. It rewards any person who maintained a B+ average throughout high school and college. You can feel empowered for knowing the character references and the historical analogies.
At its worst, it seems like the author never expected to be published, so he wrote a novel for his own pleasure--throwing in any and all devices that tickled his fancy. He liked A WRINKLE IN TIME--here, there's a pinch of time slippage. Banter between smart, adult protagonists--let me sample THE THIN MAN and even MOONLIGHTING. Plus, Jack London's THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (made into a super movie with Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed)definitely colored the writer's alternate universe, where derring-do is done on airships and among gaslit corridors.
It's not a big book--my edition was under 400 pages, yet it took me a while to go through it. There're just too many folks and flummoxes to wade through.
Bottom line: THE EYRE AFFAIR is witty, ambitious, spunky, and convinced of its own originality. The more well-read you are, however, the less witty and original it seems. Though it certainly is spunky!
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on May 16, 2002
Okay, so unlike the books it alludes to, "The Eyre Affair" is not serious literature. It's more like a fictional cream puff--light and flaky, kind of empty in the middle, but still lots of fun to indulge in. I guess it's beach reading for people who consider themselves a cut above reading the latest Jackie Collins or Tom Clancy novel.

The premise is clever (and reminiscent of Jonathan Lethem and Douglas Adams, though not quite in the same league). The character names are hilarious and some of the ways things have turned out in this alternate 1985 make for a very entertaining read. The plot is somewhat predictable in that the reader can guess how things are going to end, but you are never quite sure by what twisted path Thursday Next is going to get there.

You can, however, tell it is a first novel, or at least a poorly edited one. The perspective constantly switches from first-person (Thursday's point of view) to third-person omniscient, and the transitions are often messy--Thursday will narrate her own adventure and then say "Meanwhile, my aunt and uncle were back in the basement laboratory" and relate a whole series of events referring to "my aunt" and "my uncle" even though she wasn't there and couldn't possibly have known what they said to each other.

Still, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any English major-type who has a good sense of humor and wants something light to read in between digesting more serious literary meals.
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on June 29, 2004
Don't bother reading this book if you are A, poorly read in basic English literature and/or B unappreciative of dry wit. Now that we've eliminated the apathetics, here's the review for the rest of us:
The Eyre Affair is a great love letter to the famous English authors of centuries past, notably Shakespeare, Bronte, Austen, Dickens, etc. Well not really - it's a clever alternate universe thriller in which Litratec investigator/enforcer Thursday Next takes on a case involving the kidnapping of some of the most beloved literary characters in British lore. You see, in Thursday's world, the supernatural is very often a natural part of everyday life; vampires and werewolves are regulated by a department very much like Animal Control, time travel -talented individuals are recruited for their services in government branches, and the integrity of national literary treasures is guarded zealously by top secret levels of those branches. I could love to live in this world were it not so chaotic, what with history being constantly tampered with by various factions and all. Even so, it's great fun to visit.
Author Jasper Fforde can be caught using this forum to stage literary debates and in-jokes, much to the delight of the Anglophile readers. In place of religious fanatics coming to one's door proselytizing, you have Baconians whose mission in life is to convince the world that Shakespeare's works were written by Francis Bacon. Fforde demonstrates a very British tendency to use proper names to lampoon a character. His prodigal creation of Thursday Next is an unlikely mixture of reserved-but-courageous traditional British heroines and modern pop culture action stars reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. Fittingly, Ms. Next's interesting life seems to parallel Jane's a little more closely than coincidence.
If there is one flaw in this book, it's that the reader is thrown into an alternate universe in which we are playing a lot of catch up thoughout the plot. This sometimes had the side effect of distracting me and sometimes it contributed to the humor. Perhaps the author should have included a prologue chapter which summarized the necessary backstory, but overall TEA is worth sticking to nonetheless.

The Eyre Affair is a great find, and I look forward to other tales from this adorably messy universe.
-Andrea, aka Merribelle
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on June 25, 2002
In his book, The Eyre Affair, the author Jasper Fforde has written a clever and humorous book which bookaholics will truly enjoy. Set in England in 1985, Mr. Fforde has taken certain liberties which provide the reader with an intiguing and unforgettable plot. Time travel and cloning which are both realities should delight readers in the imaginary world the author introduces us to. England is now a police state with the government divided into Special Operative Units with each Unit having a specific task. And in a book about books and characters from books, the author cleverly uses names of book related characters and authors for this books characters which provide some nice recollections of other books.
Thursday Next, the main characters of this book is a member of Special Operations, SO-27 the Literary Detective Division. Almost from the first page the reader is captivated by this feisty character who reminded me in some ways of an older Pippi Longstocking. Once a Corporal assigned as a driver to the Armored Brigade, Thursday saw first hand fierce and bloody battles in the Crimea where her brother also lost his life. Now in 1985, she spends her time finding those criminals who steal valuable editions of books or alter the characters which affect the outcome of the books. But her life away from work is rather mundane as she broods over her man who got away and is visited from time to time by her father, a time traveler who is out of favor with the government. But suddenly, things are heating up as prime characters are being murdered in books and when Jane Eyre is missing from the pages of this book, Thursday knows she has the biggest case of her life right in her hands. Helping her out are a wonderful cast of characters which include an executive for a powerful company up to no good, an arch villain with the name of Archeron Hades, Thursday's ex- lover, her father whose "face could stop a clock" and even Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre herself. What takes place in the rest of the book is a roller coaster ride filled with many hilarious and unusual book moments.
Mr. Fforde has crafted an innovative plot which is successfully achieved by his equally wonderful characters. The best part is the recent announcement that the author's next book will continue with the life and times of Thursday Next and I for one will be happy to see what she has been up to. This reader always likes to have something to look forwrd to and I can't think of anything better than another title by Jasper Fforde.
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