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.

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Necromancy Never Pays
S. Krishna’s Books
The Written World
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The Printed Page
Piling on the Books
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Miss Picky’s Column

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