Jasper Fforde is a magician.
His first novel, The Eyre Affair, is quite simply like nothing else you will ever read. It is a sojourn into an alternative England of the 1980’s. There is no Thatcher or The Smiths or The Cure or working class strikes. Instead there are time travellers, England had successfully been invaded by the Nazis, equally successful was the repulsion of the Nazis by the mythical creature of Goliath Corporation. There is constant war in the Crimea, a socialist republic of Wales and there are Literary Detectives.
This is a world of wonder and delight, a world where literature is the equal to the 21st century obsession with celebrity. Thursday Next is our host, a Literary Detective with a military background. Her extended family, beyond her reconditioned Dodo, Pickwick, includes the genius Mycroft and a father being hunted through time.
For Fforde, the futuristic element is clear. Time and space is fluid. What has happened is happening and what will happen is happening. This is a neatly constructed novel that enables an escape from reality with a mirror held to our own society. Thursday is critical of the melodramatic media and the position of Goliath Corporation as society’s answer to any possible question. Thursday is a brilliant central character, compassionate and strong willed, confident and intelligent with real life scars.
The Eyre Affair begins with a crime. The original manuscript of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen. With this Thursday’s nemesis, Hades is introduced. All of Thursday’s brilliance is matched by Hades evil. Within the intricate world of Thursday is a crime novel layered with speculation about the power of prose and a Corporation that will do anything to make a profit.
Soon Hades is believed to be dead. But to Thursday, his plan is clear, to take Mycroft’s latest invention, a Prose Portal, and remove the beloved literary characters from novels. Hades motives are not clear; he is simply a socio path.
Opportunity brings Hades to the original manuscript of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Thursday is charged with brining him in. Thursday’s time in Bronte’s Jane Eyre hunting Hades is a stunning example of Fforde’s simple but articulate construction. The confrontation between Thursday and Hades in Thornfield Hall is theatrical while being a well controlled piece that leaves many questions answered and one lingering.
Some may think there is too much in the first Thursday Next novel. The history that is introduced of this alternative England, the literary references, offset against the unrequited love story and the crime fiction element. A critic of this novel could only be jealous of Fforde. I know I am.