The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair 


By Jasper Fforde 
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner

    The fact that English majors have bright job prospects in the world Jasper Fforde creates is sufficient in itself to indicate that his novel, The Eyre Affair, is set in an alternate universe. The world of The Eyre Affair, England circa 1985, posits an over powerful multinational corporation, Goliath, which rebuilt the decimated protagonists of a World War in such a manner as to embed itself at the top end of the political and economic systems of its beneficiaries. Wales is an independent republic, and the Crimean War has never ended. England is a society thoroughly regulated by many tiers of law enforcement, from standard police to the thirty some odd branches of Special Operations.
   
 The Spec Op branches regulate most aspects of life to a very refined and particular degree. The world of The Eyre Affair does not, however, have the markedly totalitarian feel to it that its exceptional degree of social and intellectual policing indicates that it ought. The reason for that is two fold. First, the ascendency of fine literature as a universal human passion. Second, the idea that "almost everything one can think of can be bent and stretched. I include of course, space, time, distance and reality."
   
 The pre-occupation with literature, and the general engrossment in intellectual simulation, over rides the fact of its regulation. The purpose of the regulation is not to prevent the enjoyment and engagement in literary pursuits, but to protect the integrity of its fountainhead, the classics of English literature, from misappropriation. This constant battle to thwart forgeries and other literary irregularities is ironic in that the Eyre Affair itself is a highly energetic conglomerate of literary genres, styles, and skewed references.
   
 The hero of The Eyre Affair is Thursday Next. Next is a Literatec, a Spec Op 27 enforcement officer, whose job it is to monitor the dissemination of phony manuscripts and protect valuable originals from the criminal network. The job of Literatecs, and Spec Ops in general, is made complex by the permeability of time and reality. Just as alterations in history can affect future events, alterations in original manuscripts can effect all extant copies of them. Indeed rare individuals of particular sensitivity can actually enter into works of fiction, while fictional characters can sometimes leave their texts and enter the real world.
   
 When Thursday’s brilliant Uncle Mycroft develops a prose portal, which allows a more uniform entrance and exit from original manuscripts, both the Goliath Corporation, and the third most evil man on the planet, Acheron Hades, wish to use if for less than humanitarian ends. Hades, with Mycroft’s beloved wife Polly trapped in a Wordsworth poem, is blackmailed into allowing the abduction of Jane Eyre herself. In the end Hades enters the text of Jane Eyre and Thursday follows him in.
   
 The sense of permeability in The Eyre Affair is accentuated by Fforde’s extremely energetic craftsmanship. He throws so many allusions, genres, events, and plot elements at the reader, that the individual aspects of The Eyre Affair itself are lost in its careening trip through all the books and aspects of literature which Ffforde loves. Indeed Ffforde himself is having so much fun that we feel inclined not so much to suspend, as to delay critical assessment. One notices that Hades is at times too campy, that Thursday performs too many remarkable rescues, and so forth, but something fresh is always happening and our overall judgement can wait.
   
 The Eyre Affair is farcical to a large extent, and so interwoven with secondary material as to be, like Acheron Hades, very well disguised. Yet it has an integrity of its own which may be found in its affirmation of the value of the interdependence of literary experience. The integrity of texts is not a given for Fffode , it is sustained by constant activity, a multifaceted struggle in which humor, sense, sensibility, imagination, and guts, all work to sustain the interdependence of text and reader. The success the Eyre affair, I mean to say, argues that success is its own best argument.