The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre AffairImage via Wikipedia

In preperation for reading Thursday Next: First Among Sequels I decided to pick up The Eyre Affair (on my Kindle).  It sounded like fun. The plot is not easy to summarize so allow me to do what all lazy people online do and use Wikipedia:

In this parallel world, England and Imperial Russia have fought the Crimean War for more than a century. England itself is a police state run by the Goliath Corporation (a powerful weapon-producing company with questionable morals). Wales is a separate, socialist nation. In the book’s fictional version of Jane Eyre, her story ends with Jane accompanying her cousin, St. John Rivers, to India in order to help him with his missionary work. Literary questions (especially the question of Shakespearean authorship) are debated so hotly that they inspire gang wars and murder.

Single, thirty-something, Crimean War veteran and literary detective Thursday Next lives in London with her pet dodo, Pickwick. As the story begins, Thursday is called upon to investigate the theft of the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens.

Sounds like a fun mix of sci-fi/speculative fiction and adventure story with a dose of literary references.  And the reviews were very good.  Here is one from the School Library Journal

The novel has the surrealism and satire of Douglas Adams, the nonsense and wordplay of Lewis Carroll, and the descriptive detail of Connie Willis. What sets Fforde’s work apart, however, is its winsome heroine. This is a highly entertaining mystery with social satire, time travel, fantasy, science fiction, and romance thrown in to the well-written mix.

There are tons of positive reviews that say much the same thing, but I never really was able to get into it.  I am not sure why.

One problem was that I was reading it over a rather extended period of time due to a host of outside events.  I was also in a bit of a funk.  Usually books help get me out of such a mood but this one never did.

It wasn’t that the book was a complete bomb but it never really hit my funny bone.  I found it interesting but not compelling.

One aspect that I found annoying was the sort of endless focus on the Crimean War on how war sucks and how the military was convinced victory was just around the corner. etc.  This all struck me as cliched and unimaginative.  Maybe my politics colored my view, I don’t know.

Although I don’t have quite the level of enthusiasm they do, I think the folks over at the Complete Review summed it up well:

Fforde has fashioned a wild, fantastical thriller. There are some terrible missteps along the way, including a dreadful meteorite-catching chapter, too much lingering war-melodrama, the ridiculous time-travel crap, lame arguments about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and some Buffy the vampire-slayer knock-off adventures. Overall, however, the novel is an engaging one.

Perhaps, if I had tried to write about my response immediately after having read the book I could offer more intelligent reasons for finding it flat.  But alas that ship has sailed.

Sometimes books, even good books, just don’t work for you at the time and place your read them.  That is my conclusion.

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Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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