Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An affair next Thursday

Have you ever read a book that all your friends are raving about so you finally decided to pick it up and ended up not liking it. In these cases, I usually ask myself, "What's wrong with me? Have I totally missed the point?" Well, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is one such book. I was prepared to really, really like it, but somehow, it didn't work for me. In Jasper Fforde's fantastical 1980s England where The Eyre Affair takes place, people can travel through time, original manuscripts get stolen, literature is taken too seriously, folks clone dodos for pets, fictional characters go missing, and people patrol the goings-on of vampires and other mythological creatures.

In The Eyre Affair, we meet Thursday Next, a detective who belongs to Special Operations 27 (SO-27), the Literary Detectives, who are in charge of investigating crimes related to, well, literature. One day, she gets a call from another more powerful special operations department (SO-5) and is tasked to help track one Acheron Hades, an elusive criminal who seems to have supernatural powers. Unfortunately, the operation goes wrong and she goes back to her hometown of Swindon again as an SO-27. Back as a literary detective, she gets assigned to track a missing character from one of Charles Dickens's lesser-known novels. Thursday eventually finds a connection between this particular crime and Hades, who also kidnaps Jane Eyre.

The world Fforde has conjured up for this novel is a bit too hard to swallow. There's something about adults messing with time and history that feels off for me, which I wouldn't feel if this were a young adult novel and the plot would be more quirky. I keep thinking about the ripple effect, wherein a particular change somewhere along the past would have severe consequences on the present and the future. Fforde's multi-thematic approach to The Eyre Affair (fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, crime) made me feel that the novel lacked a center.

Thursday has been described as part Bridget Jones, part Nancy Drew, and part Dirty Harry by many reviewers. Well, there's a subplot concerning her failed relationship and how she resolves it. There's the detective part, so I get the Nancy Drew comparison. The Dirty Harry analogy is a bit of a stretch though. Thursday is far too sentimental to pull off that tough detective character. Nevertheless, there's lots to love in Thursday -- her persistence, her wisecracks, her apparent talent to find herself in funny situations. She's something to watch out for.

Still, a lot of readers would have a blast reading about the various literary crimes the SO-27 detectives get involved in. If you're big on Shakespeare, you'd love their debates on the actual authorship of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Fforde would also pique your interest on lesser-known literary works. And when you read that the ending of Jane Eyre has somehow been changed by the events, it makes you want to read (reread) the novel just to see if the "new ending" works.

The Eyre Affair is Fforde's Thursday Next novel. Most of my friends say that the series would get better eventually. Frankly, I'd just stick with my Elmore Leonard or, finally, read a Nancy Drew.

Read this book if:
  1. You feel specially connected to a fictional character.
  2. You're fond of strong heroines in novels.
  3. You love alternate histories.

29 comments:

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Oh yes, I hate it too when a book lets me down. I actually tried reading this book a while ago, but I couldn't really get into it, even though I fit all your 3 criteria for reading the book. I keep saying to myself that I just wasn't in the mood for it and that I'll love it the second time around. Fingers crosed because I really want to. :)

stacybuckeye said...

I've been wanting to read this series, but haven't yet. I feel like I should give it a shot even though I fear my reaction could be similar to yours.

Peter S. said...

@Bookalicious Ramblings: Well, maybe the second reading would be better for you.

@stacybuckeye: I'm sure you'll find something in this book that you'll love.

Mrs. B. said...

You're not alone. I didn't like this so much either. It's not bad but just not for me.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mrs. B! I know! Something's really off with The Eyre Affair.

line of flight said...

This reminded me of how much I loved Callas Forever only to have my best friend have an almost opposite reaction. After lengthy discussion, it was interesting how the movie hit us in completely different places. I focused on the abstract theme of integrity, she focused on the rewrite of Maria Callas' life. lol.

Peter S. said...

Hi, line of flight! I guess we just gravitate toward a particular theme in a book or movie that we feel strongly about.

rise said...

Me, too. I eagerly started this book and after a chapter or so eagerly abandoned it for good.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Rise! Oh, so there's a lot of us that didn't really like this book than I thought.

StephanieD said...

I was prepared to really love this book. I loved aspects of it, separately - Thursday, the bookworms, the Rocky Horror-esque Richard III performances. But what I thought would win me over - a world obsessed with literature - was what kept me from falling in love with it in the end. I can take the time travel, parallel universe concepts - but could not accept a world in which there are Shakespeare vending machines. But Fforde is so creative and brilliant, I do want to try his other books, perhaps persist in this series.

Peter S. said...

Hi, StephanieD! I think I'll read the second book of the series and see if I would like that better.

Melissa (My World) said...

Thanks for sharing an honest review on how the book worked for you. I have heard wonderful things on the books and it is nice to hear when things kind of didn't work for someone else. It doesn't affect me to or not to read the books. I just like to know when there is someone who feels different. There are always different takes on books, and love to hear them.

Thank you!

josbookshelf said...

Awww...Peter, you didn't like it? I had fun reading The Eyre Affair, though. But then, Fforde's style is probably just not to your taste.

I recall my review as saying it's the kind of book either you will really like or you flat out won't.

Lightheaded said...

Awww, too bad this book wasn't a good match for you but I like your honest opinion about the book a lot (heck, if we can't be honest about our posts then why blog, right?)

Funny but the things you probably hated about this were the ones I wholeheartedly swallow. Don't worry about the time, the Chronoguards will ensure stability or at least a semblance of it :)

Obviously I liked this a lot. I read four of the five TN novels so far and the spinoff Nursery series which might appeal to detective fans more.

Still, some books are simply bad matches to readers so I totally get that.

gege said...

I generally liked the book, but I wasn't as enamored with it as many readers were; I figured it's because I'm not a hard core literary person. Plus I am so not into fantasy. I loved some parts, and some parts I found absurd. Oh, this is turning out to be a long comment, so just check out my review. I just transferred it from Multiply to blogspot. http://tinyurl.com/yhdn7b6

savidgereads said...

Hmm I was going to read this next as everyone is saying that I should after reading and enjoying the latest Fforde book Shades of Grey. They have also told me that the series gets better and better, so I think I will still give it a whirl. Sorry that you didn't like it.

Vivienne said...

Part of me is drawn to reading this book and part of me is moving quickly away from it to give it a wide berth. What to do! I might just try it.

Ceri said...

I never really fancied this book in spite of all the hype everyone's been giving it. I think I'll give it a miss now thanks to you review - I'm glad you were honest about how you felt, Peter. :)

Peter S. said...

I guess Jo was right all along -- this is a book that's very polarizing. You either love it or hate it.

SariJ said...

Don't feel bad. All my friends promised me I would love Ford's books. I tried, but I cannot get into his world.
This is why I dislike saying Oh you will love this, because we all know we don't always love what our friends rave about. This is why I like your small "you may like it if" list. It sounds less demanding.

Peter S. said...

Hi, SariJ! The suspension of disbelief is just too much.

Sumthinblue said...

I'm a big Jasper Fforde fan, hehe, but even I was a skeptic with the first book. I didn't get into the series until the succeeding books, which get better, I promise! :)

Evanescence said...

I've read nearly all of the Thursday Next books, and whilst a large parts of them were enjoyable. There was something missing from the books, I liked aspects such as having books be real, and characters being able to move within books.

But I found it sometimes hard to follow, and aspects such as having Hamlet living with Thursday in later books and the behaviour of Miss Havisham was a bit too much. I think having all the notions of Thursday Next and the puns for people's names was also over stretching the idea.

Peter S. said...

@sumthinblue: I'll take your word for it!

@Evanescence: I found many parts in the book that were hard to follow (and swallow).

Evanescence said...

Glad it wasn't just me! There's one part of one of the books where Thursday chases Miss Havisham in a car, and it was difficult to read and just a bit too much in terms of believability. I have no problem with fantasy/Sci-fi as a concept, but the Thursday Next series just stretches it a bit too far.

aloi said...

great review!!! fforde kind of grew on me. the first book's quite difficult to get through because it's about getting used to the whole alternate reality thing. but then i'm a fantasy fan.

i tried "the big over easy" which is a nursery crime also by fforde, but i couldnt really get into it. i guess i;m a thursday kinda gal!

Peter S. said...

@Evanescence: And yet you've read nearly all of them! You're a true blue bibliophile.

@Aloi: Thanks! Some readers have also mentioned that the series get better as it progresses.

Cynewyn said...

Hmm...I've just finished this one. The alternate reality theme was great, well constructed and very funny in places (especially the bookworms lett'ing o'ff ap'ostro'phes when they've eat'en to'o much!) and the idea of going into books was fabulous - loved that. But Thursday? Nope, just couldn't get her as a character - far too masculine to my taste! Guess I like my female heroines to be real women, not gun-touting, Lara Croft types...I'll have a go with the next in the series all the same!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Cynewyn! I hope you can tell me if the next book is better than the first.