“My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don’t mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had a power to reduce time to an ultra-slow trickle.”
In The Eyre Affair we join literary detective Thursday Next as she tries to solve the mystery of Jane Eyre’s kidnapping. There may be some of that sentence you would like explaining. I’m not sure whether I should oblige, or just abandon you to the fun of finding out for yourself. I have recommended Jasper Fforde’s writing to a number of people since discovering it myself, and each time with the caveat ‘I have no idea whether you’ll like it.’ That being said, I will continue to recommend it all the same. Such is my love for the completely loopy world I find myself thrown into each time I pick up a Fforde novel.
The Eyre Affair is the first in the Thursday Next series of books, and is so far still the one I have enjoyed the most. The main character is my favourite kind of heroine: quick to unleash a wide range of ass-kickery when the situation calls for it, but still slightly pre-occupied with getting her ex to love her again. When reading this book I was reminded of an episode of the Dylan Moran/Bill Bailey sitcom Black Books where bookshop proprietor Bernard Black is convincing his customers that his new best seller (Tempocalypse), which follows the story of a 30-something struggling to find a boyfriend whilst simultaneously attempting to prevent a nuclear war, is a book with something for everyone. If anyone could have written Tempocalypse it is Jasper Fforde.
One of my favourite things about the book is the way in which it unashamedly embraces its own weirdness. The reader is thrust into a world where the Crimean War still rages on, it is possible to stop time, people have the ability to saunter into their favourite novel, and our protagonist has an endearingly dim pet dodo named Pickwick. The story is inventive and funny and incredibly engaging, although at times requiring you to ‘go with the flow’ until the later narrative answers your inevitable questions about the workings of Thursday’s world. This series is a collection of books for book people. The numerous literary references and uses of punctuation as a plot device are a delight for those who love to explore the way that words can work. I defy you to read The Eyre Affair and then resist the rest of the series.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
o’er a plan to venge myself upon that cursed Thursday Next-
This Eyre affair, so surprising, gives my soul such loath despising,
Here I plot my temper rising, rising from my jail of text.
‘Get me out!’ I said, advising, ‘Pluck me from this jail of text-or I swear I’ll ring your neck!’ ”