The Eyre Affair is Fforde’s first novel, and it introduces us to Next, a Special Operative in literary detection and a veteran of the Crimean War. (No, you heard me right.) It’s the 1980′s but there are many things in the book you simply wouldn’t recognize. Fforde has crafted an alternative world where the English are still fighting the Crimean War with the Russians, Wales is a separate republic, Churchill was never prime minister, time travel is more than just a possibility, Dodo birds have been brought back via DNA to serve as household pets, and the alteration of an original manuscript can change all printed copies of the work. In this universe, England is under the heel of the Goliath Corporation, an entity that helped England recover in the past, but has since pursued the almighty dollar at the expense of civil liberties.
Bring in Archeron Hades (love that name), the most evil of evil geniuses, who has a plan for the latest invention of Next’s uncle, Mycroft. Myrcroft has invented true bookworms (genetically-engineered creepy crawlers who can actually read and are nourished by prepositions) that work in conjunction with his Prose Portal to open a doorway into a book. If you open a doorway into the work via the original manuscript and alter anything, all printed copies of the work are altered. When Hades abducts Jane Eyre, the novel ends in all copies at the point of her abduction. After all, the novel is told from Jane’s perspective. No Jane, no novel. And that’s a big problem in a world where a debate about Shakespeare (did he or didn’t he write those plays?) can quickly turn to fisticuffs.
All of this sounds preposterous, of course, and it’s to Fforde’s credit that he’s able to pull it off with such finesse. No question that the work is suspenseful, but the author can’t help but have his fun via wordplay and literary allusions. (Next’s boss is named Victor Analogy.) There’s a great scene toward the end of the book where the bookworms are expelling an excess of their natural waste products: apostrophes and ampersands. Fforde writes the remainder of the scene utilizing excess apostrophes and ampersands. And then this:
Please!” pleaded Mycroft. “You’re Upsetting The Wor’ms! They’re Starting to hy-phe-nate!”
I literally cracked up during this scene. Fforde’s sense of humor shines through in such an original way.
This is obviously a book that requires that “willing suspension of disbelief” in order to find its treasures. But if you can take the journey, the treasures abound: romance, adventure, murder, conspiracy, comedy.
Check out what Fforde has to say about his first novel.
Will I read more Thursday Next? You bet! The sequel is Lost in a Good Book and, yeah, that’s what I’m planning to do.