Review: The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

Metafiction.  That’s another challenge I should invent, if there isn’t one already, a metafiction challenge.  I always expect to love metafiction passionately, and when it lets me down, I feel hurt and betrayed.  Like the book of The Princess Bride.  Why did you be so lame, book of The Princess BrideAtonementWicked after they left school, but particularly after, um, a certain event?  That I don’t want to say because some of you maybe haven’t read the book yet?  Slaughterhouse FiveGiles Goat-Boy.

And then sometimes it is great, like The Unwritten, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Ella Minnow Pea, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, or Fire and Hemlock, it is exactly what metafiction should be, and I feel satisfied with myself for choosing to love metafiction with all my heart.

And sometimes it’s good enough, but I am tortured by the thought of how much better it could have been if only X, Y, and Z.  Like Baltimore, or The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (I know!  Everyone loved this book!  But I did not.).  Fables actually falls into this category too, because although I love it and it’s fun seeing the fairy tale characters do all sorts of decidedly un-fairy-tale-like things, I always wish the characters were more fully realized.  But Fables has the advantage of having pretty pictures, whereas The Eyre Affair, which suffers from a more serious version of this characters problem, does not.

All of this to say, The Eyre Affair is all cutesy meta references and very little heart.  Literary detective Thursday Next encounters supervillain Lex Luthor Acheron Hades when she becomes involved in a case to track down the stolen original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit.  Thereafter Hades gains access to a device that allows real people to get into books, and vice versa; he steals the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps Jane herself.  If his demands are not met, he threatens, he will take Jane out of the manuscript permanently, effectively destroying Jane Eyre for all future generations.

Don’t get me wrong.  The cutesy meta references can be charming, enough so that I checked out the second book in the series in the hopes of its improving.  Fforde has produced some delightful details about his book-obsessed alternate England.  Automated machines recite several lines of Shakespeare when you insert a coin.  Thursday and her ex-lover Landen attend a production of Richard III in which all the actors are drawn from the audience, and the audience participates in the play through call-backs.  But the characters, though duly supplied with backstory, are cardboard, and there are long stretches where not much is happening by way of plot.

If this seems uncharacteristically harsh, you can put it down to two things.  One, I don’t buy Fforde’s versions of Rochester and Jane, or in several cases his characterization of the plot of Jane Eyre, and I don’t appreciate people messing with Jane Eyre if they’re not going to do it right.  Two, as you may know, I love it that Shakespeare was some nobody from Stratford and yet wrote these most magnificent plays, and I am not at all interested in theories that suggest otherwise.  So.

Other reviews:

The Zen Leaf
the stacks my destination
books i done read
Regular Rumination
Rebecca Reads
Eve’s Alexandria
A Striped Armchair
Necromancy Never Pays
S. Krishna’s Books
The Written World
Sam’s Book Blog
Medieval Bookworm
1 More Chapter
The Printed Page
Piling on the Books
25 Hour Books
So Many Books So Little Time
Reading and Rooibos
Miss Picky’s Column

Did I miss yours?

Booking Through Thursday

I like this one:

This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

So here are my fifteen books that will always stick with me, more or less in the order in which they entered my life:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre
, Charlotte Bronte
Emily Climbs, L.M .Montgomery
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
, William Shakespeare
The Chosen
, Chaim Potok
The Color Purple
, Alice Walker
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
, J.K. Rowling
, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard
I Capture the Castle
, Dodie Smith
, Julian of Norwich
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie

These are all books that left me breathless.  Is that what we were after?

Remember your first time…

Love this Booking Through Thursday question:

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

Oh ever so many books.  Mainly maybe The Chosen?  And The Color Purple, and, oh, The Charioteer, and Watership Down.  I can’t choose one.  There are dozens of books that were such the most amazing experience ever the first time I read them – Fire and Hemlock was superb.  Absolutely definitely The Far Pavilions and I Capture the Castle and Jane Eyre.

Yes, Jane Eyre.  If I had to choose one.  I would choose Jane Eyre, my beautiful Jane Eyre, and I would read the end before I read the middle, just like I did when I was eight (nine?) years old, that gorgeous scene at the end when she goes into the room, and Pilot is there, and then I would read the middle – eek, that whole dreadful bit when St. John is bullying her – and finally I would get to the end again for real, and it would be wonderful because it would be my first time reading it, and it would be the very most best experience of reading a book ever.

I don’t mean to go on and on

But I just read this and threw up in my mouth a little.  I can’t help feeling like this person has to be being sarcastic.  Because nobody could say these things seriously, right?  I mean everyone has noticed that Bella is a cipher, right?  Even if you have overlooked Edward’s tendency to stalk and make decisions for Bella and you think he’s the perfect man, you’ve noticed that Bella has no personality.  I mean, right?

Twilight centers on a boy who loves a girl so much that he refuses to defile her, and on a girl who loves him so dearly that she is desperate for him to do just that, even if the wages of the act are expulsion from her family and from everything she has ever known. We haven’t seen that tale in a girls’ book in a very long time. And it’s selling through the roof.

This paragraph encapsulates the essential thing about this series that I find so creepy and upsetting.  Defile her?  Are we really still in the mindset that sex (premarital sex particularly) is defiling a girl?  Defile.  Jesus.

Oh, yeah, and here’s the other thing about this damn book that makes me angry.  Stephenie Meyer says she sort of based Edward on Mr. Rochester, and named him after Mr. Rochester.  I mean you do realize that means that Stephenie Meyer thinks that Edward is like Mr. Rochester?  Half of my favorite literary couple ever?  Anyway, this article has also totally failed to get why Jane and Mr. Rochester are so good:

In short, Edward treats Bella not as Count Dracula treated the objects of his desire, but as Mr. Rochester treated Jane Eyre. He evinces the most profound disdain and distaste for this girl. Even after they have confessed their love for each other, he will still occasionally glare at and speak sharply to her.

What.  Ev.  Er.  Mr. Rochester does not evince profound disdain and distaste for Jane.  He teases her and she plays up to him.  That is why I love them.  They share a sense of humor.  I love that scene where Mrs. Fairfax is telling Mr. Rochester how good Jane is, and he’s all “Whatever, I’ll decide for myself.  She began by felling my horse,” and Mrs. Fairfax has no idea what he’s on about.   Profound disdain and distaste indeed.  Makes you wonder whether this person has actually read Jane Eyre.

Oh, society, please stop it with the creepy attitudes towards sex.  You are giving me a headache.

Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn

So I read this for my Victorians class, basically because I want to write a paper on it for my final project – that research proposal is due in on Thursday and I’ve given it shockingly little thought in comparison to my usual intensive research schedules with these term paper things – anyway, I’m reading it for my final project, and I didn’t expect it to be any good.  I judge books by their cover, and this cover was rubbish.

I also judge them on really cheap jokes.  The fact that she talks into her little voice recorder, the brand of which is Reeder, makes me throw up a little in my mouth.  Reeder, I married him.  Oop.  There went the acid reflux.  The thing is, Ms. Shinn didn’t maintain this conceit straight through the book, you know?  The book wasn’t a transcript of everything that was recorded by the Reeder.  Most of it was in past tense, and it often talked about her little Reeder voice recorder, so it didn’t work out well, and caused me some dismay.  And also, hi, I’m Jenny, and I don’t like little cutesy jokes about Jane Eyre.

Here’s another thing that caused me some dismay.  Do you know what was wrong with Berthe Rochester (Beatrice Ravenbeck in this version), do you know?  Because I’ll tell you!  She was a malfunctioning cyborg!  She was!  I swear!  I didn’t make that up!  I couldn’t even have made that up if I wanted to which God knows I don’t, because I didn’t know that a cyborg was a part-human-part-robot creature.  Which is what Berthe is here.  A malfunctioning cyborg.  She’s just human enough that poor put-upon Mr. Rochester (Ravenbeck) can’t get rid of her.

I found this whole book trying.  It’s like Ms. Shinn made a big long list of every single scene in Jane Eyre, and then wrote down little notes next to each scene about how she could make them more science-fictiony.  The end result is less than inspiring.  Everyone seems like a cardboard imitation of their original characters in Jane Eyre, and the stuff that’s added in is vastly uninteresting.  I wasn’t, of course, expecting any adaptation to be able to improve on Jane Eyre, which is a book that gives joy to my life; but if Jane Eyre were Oxford, Jenna Starborn would be, like, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.

And I’m not just saying that because reading Jenna Starborn caused me to miss out on playing with my nice cousins that I haven’t seen since they were seven and four.  It’s my true opinion.  I would still feel that way if I had been reading Jenna Starborn as an alternative to parking ten eighteen-wheelers on Carlotta Street, or, I don’t know, giving enemas to everyone at the campus health center.  I would.