Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde


2001; 374 pages. Genres : a whole slew of them. Overall Rating : B+.
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"I was born on a Thursday, hence the name. My brother was born on a Monday, and they called him Anton - go figure. My mother was called Wednesday, but was born on a Sunday - I don't know why - and my father had no name at all - his identity and existence had been scrubbed by the ChronoGuard after he went rogue. To all intents and purposes he didn't exist at all. It didn't matter. He was always Dad to me."
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I read this book after Amanda's review, which you can and should read here. Amanda gives a great summary, so I won't repeat it. This is a unique and ambitious book. It incorporates at least eight genres - Romance, Alt. History (okay, "Parallel Universe" if you want to split hairs), Time Travel, Action-Thriller, Dimension Travel, Literary Fiction, Vampires, and last but not least, Satire.
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What's To Like...
First of all, you don't need to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy this book. For us unread yokels, Fforde gives a brief synopsis of JE as the storyline heads "into" that book. If any of the aforementioned genres appeal to you, you'll find TEA a delight. And there's four more in the series (maybe five now), all involving classic literature rewrites.
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Other highlights : pet dodo birds; an independent Republic of Wales, a bunch of likeable good guys along with some interesting bad guys, some really kewl inventions by Thursday Next's Uncle Mycroft, and Shakespeare's Richard III done in a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" fashion.
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There are a few weaknesses, as Amanda has pointed out. When you have eight genres and maybe a dozen plots and sub-plots flowing through the story, it is well nigh impossible to give enough attention to all of them. The time-travel seems superfluous, as does Wales' being an independent nation. Perhaps these are more fully developed in the sequels.
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My gut feeling is that Fforde's ultimate goal in writing The Eyre Affair was to rewrite the ending to Jane Eyre. One can't just up and do that; people would call you presumptuous. So he invented an incredibly complex universe and storyline, and used them as a vehicle to alter the ending. Was Fforde successful in this? In my opinion, yes.

17 comments:

Amanda said...

Ah, but see that's the thing, since you HAVEN'T read Jane Eyre - Fforde doesn't rewrite the end! The allows his characters to create the ending as we, in this universe, know it. The real Jane Eyre (brilliant, btw) does not end with Jane going off with her cousin to India. I was a little weirded out when I first read that in this book. Fforde created a situation where he could plausibly rewrite our regular end over a formerly crappy alternate ending.

I'm thinking those other things, the superfluous ones, will be expanded in the series later. I should ask my librarian friend who recommended the book to me about that.

Amanda said...

I mean "He allows..."

Jason Gignac said...

Whoah! Let's just get one thing straight - an independent Republic of Wales is ALWAYS relevant...

hamilcar barca said...

Amanda - i wondered about that. the "original" ending to Jane Eyre in TEA was just so lame that i couldn't fathom why people rave about the book. Heh, heh. Exquisitely clever, Mr. Fforde.

Jason - i agree re Wales. i work with a Welshman, and while calling him "British" doesn't faze him, calling him "English" is an invitation to an argument. besides, there is absolutely no kewler national flag than that of Wales. and it flew peoudly in our house for many years in my son's bedroom.

Amanda said...

I want to learn Welch one day.

hamilcar barca said...

sadly, it's a dying language. even my Welsh colleague knows only some colloquialisms in it, and it's his homeland. i asked him how to say "Halloween" in Welsh last year, and he admitted he didn't know.

i grew up in a Pennsylvania Dutch area. for my grandparents, English was their second language. for my parents, English was their first tongue, but they could converse in Penna. Dutch. especially when they didn't want us kids to understand what they were saying. alas, i know a couple phrases in it, and that's all. Pennsylvania Dutch will be extinct within 50 years.

Amanda said...

Jason points out that I mistyped Welsh. Whoops. Chalk it up to two mornings up hours before I was supposed to be. Stupid weekends!

hamilcar barca said...

people that can spell a word only one way lack imagination. ;-)

Jason Gignac said...

I like the idea of speaking Welch. The secret language of a reclusive race of jam-makers...

hamilcar barca said...

or (and this is almost too obvious the official language of Grape Britain.

farmlanebooks said...

I didn't see how I could possibly enjoy this book when a friend recommended it to me. I like my books to be based in reality, but somehow Jasper Fforde managed to pull it off, and I did like it.

I read Jane Eyre just before reading this, and I'm really glad I did, as there were a lot of references which would have gone over my head otherwise.

Great review - I think you summed it up perfectly!

Amanda said...

I agree knowing Jane Eyre helped in reading this book. I sort of which I was more familiar with Dickens, too. It makes me wonder what books will be referenced in the next couple of the series.

hamilcar barca said...

yep - undoubtedly reading Jane Eyre first makes TEA all that more enjoyable. but it's such a captivating storyline that even a classicophobe like me still liked it.

i've read that in each of the sequels, Fforde spotlights other classic writers - Shakespeare, Dickins, etc. if true, it would be a tall order to read each of the referenced tomes beforehand.

tomorrow's already a busy day. but i think i'll try to go to the library and get the second book in this series.

hamilcar barca said...

i got the second book in this series at the library yesterday. the book to be tweaked this time apparently is Dickens' Great Expectations. specifically the man-hating Miss Haversham plays has a significant role. Jason said GE was assigned reading in high school and he found it to be a wretched book. he did give me a nice synopsis of it however, so i know where Ms. Haversham fits in.

i have a 2-day business trip later this week, so should get some serious reading time for this book.

Amanda said...

I've heard so much about Miss Haversham but didn't know where she came from. I'm a little intimidated by Dickens.

hamilcar barca said...

we had to read David Copperfield in high school. i found it boring. then again, i found everything boring in high school. i don't think i've read anything by Dickens since.

i briefly leafed thru the book last night. it looks like Thursday Next is going to be transported into other classics in the story as well. i'm finishing up a Bryson book ATM, so probably won't start the Fforde one until i'm sitting in the airport Wednesday morning.

Trish said...

I'm back! :) Uncle Mycroft was an absolute hoot! You talk about this book being ambitious and I felt that there was a lot of surface level writing--I guess maybe that stems from Fforde taking on too much. I had heard a lot about the complexity, but I just didn't leave with that impression. Had a lot of fun with it, though, and I'll have to search out the others (there are blurbs of two of the books in the back of mine).