Completed 4/8/2016, reviewed 4/11/2016
I was disappointed with this book. It had such a strong buzz for being comical like Monty Python and Douglas Adams, and for being meta- with people walking in and out of novels. However, I found the humor to be sporadic and mundane and the meta- aspect to be rather boring.
This is basically a mystery set in an alternative past England where corporations hold the power, the Crimean War has lasted over 100 years, and society revolves around literature and the arts. People know Shakespeare’s works by heart and go to Rocky Horror-like productions of Richard III. There are Baconians who go door to door passing out pamphlets about Francis Bacon being the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. And some people get magically transported in and out of the great works of English Literature.
Thursday Next is a Literatec, a literature detective. She’s on the trail of Ascheron Hades, a Voldermort-like evil-doer who is deleting characters from the original manuscripts of great works, thus removing them from all copies of the works. Can she stop Hades in time to save Jane Eyre from being permanently removed from Bronte’s book?
The summary makes the book sound like it should be a lot of fun, and it is at times. However, the writing style is not very good. It’s mostly told in first person by Next, but there are too many third person omniscient scenes that throw you off balance when you’re reading it.
There doesn’t seem to be much tension buildup either. Nothing gets exciting. I think that has to do with the character development. I feel like I never really get to know Next. I know what happens to her, but nothing much about her. I tried to convince myself that she was supposed to be a hard-boiled detective, but her narration is too plain. I found the most interesting scenes to be the ones where the Shakespearean authorship conspiracies are discussed, rather than the action. Even when Next’s aunt and uncle are kidnapped by Hades, she’s rather nonplussed about it.
This is just a personal taste thing, Jane Eyre isn’t in peril until well into the second half of the book. If I were the author, I would have entitled it something else, or brought the Eyre plot further to the front of the book. Because the book is titled “The Eyre Affair”, everything in the first half of the book feels like treading water, waiting for the main plot to begin. Again, this is personal taste, but the title set up my expectation and left me hanging for two hundred pages.
I give this book three stars out of five. The saving grace of the book is that the end is pretty exciting. I was worried that with the boredom I felt through most of the book, I wouldn’t care about the ending, but it proved me wrong. I just wish rest of the book had the immediacy and tension that Fforde conveyed so well at the end.