The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next is some kind of operative for an organisation that investigates crimes related to works of literature. She's called in when the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen: there are fears that the perpetrator may plan to alter the document, and by doing so change all copies of the story in existence.

Yes, this story is set in an alternate reality, where the rules are different: not only can classic works of literature be changed, but the Crimean war is still being fought, time travel is possible, werewolves exist, and there are devices which open doors allowing people to step into the story of a book, and allow characters from fiction come into the real world.

I don't really get on with this sort of thing, I think mainly because it feels like all bets are off in terms of what you can expect to happen: the author can just conjour up deus ex machina at any stage to advance or resolve the plot. But, Tim likes these books, and when I bought it in Waterstones, the assistant congratulated me on my choice and promised I would really enjoy it.

But I didn't really like it. I think in fact I didn't really get it. I can sort of see that there are some clever ideas in there, and there is definitely potential in the material, but I couldn't work out what kind of book it was trying to be (perhaps it's a good thing that it doesn't fit into the pattern of being a particular kind of book).

In some ways it was a bit like the Dirk Gently books, but from what I remember of them, the time loops and characters bumping into earlier/later versions of themselves were done with a bit of a twist that left you thinking "aha, such-and-such makes sense now"; in this book, there didn't seem to be any such thought: you just have a scene with Thursday seeing a version of herself appearing, saying "don't do XXX", and then later in the book having to say "don't do XXX" to an earlier version of herself.

It reminded me a bit of the Harry Potter books too. In those books, JRW seems to just invent new stuff that you had no way of knowing would exist in the Harry Potter world, just to advance the plot. An example of that in this book was the group of people who assemble outside and try and catch bits of meteorites (or meteors). It made for an interesting diversion but had no links to other things going on: I could imagine it as a short story on its own, but it didn't have any necessary connection with the rest of the plot. Maybe in the subsequent Fforde books these things crop up again, but I'm willing to bet that he just invents more new stuff in them as well.

Another way I felt I wasn't "getting it" was that the book is peppered with names that are a bit odd and feel like they might be puns but aren't. E.g. "Thursday Next" - is there some significance in that, apart from it being a slightly wacky name? "Victor Analogy" sounds like it ought to be a pun; "Sturmey Archer" and "Braxton Hix" I recognise but I couldn't see why they might have been appropriate. "Acheron Hades" is just meant to mean what it says (really bad person), so far as I can see.

But, I see on Amazon that there are tons of five star reviews, so maybe it's me that's at fault. However, I don't think I'll be reading any more.

Completed : 17-Sep-2011

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