Friday, September 14, 2007

What I'm Reading: Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair

I have to admit, I wasn’t crazy about this book right away.

The Eyre Affair is a mystery/fantasy—an interesting blending of the genres. In a world where the arts dominate daily life, detective Thursday Next must catch arch-fiend Acheron Hades. Hades has stolen a machine that allows people from the “real” world to enter the worlds of individual books. They can change stories and even bring fictional characters over into the real world. Hades is using the machine to kidnap characters of famous novels and hold them for ransom.

In Fforde’s vision of the world, literature and the arts dominate society. There’s a lively black market for forgeries of famous manuscripts; when we first meet Thursday, she’s working as a LiteraTec, breaking up crime rings of counterfeit literature. French impressionists lurk in alleyways and assault surrealists, who riot in the streets. Baconians go door to door, proselytizing that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Panhandlers recite Longfellow to earn their handouts. Fforde clearly loved his literature, but at first it was a little too cutesy for me. It seemed like an interesting construct of a world, but I didn’t know if it was interesting enough for me to want to stay with it for 300 pages.

I think one of the reasons I wasn’t wild about it to start with was the lack of characterization. Good characters really draw me into a story, and fantasy and mystery are both genres that traditionally depend on crystal-clear characterization. But Fforde is clearly more interested in his world than in his characters. The heroine is strong and fearless, but she's not fascinating--although she is funny, in a dry sort of way, and she has a cool backstory. But her love interest, her fellow law enforcement officers, and others she interacts with aren’t quite real enough for me to become invested in this world.

Acheron Hades perked the story up when he made his first appearance; he’s a formidable rival who can exert some sort of mind control on his adversaries. And I started to allow myself to be won over when Thursday goes to see Richard III. This is no ordinary production of Richard III, however. It’s been playing regularly for fifteen years. It’s got audience participation like you’d get at a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the audience puts on the play. If there was a showing like that in my town, I’d become a regular. And I have to admit, this book is slowly beginning to grow on me. Like a fungus.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t give you the final verdict on it just now. Will Thursday Next catch Acheron Hades and save Jane Eyre? Will she get back together with estranged boyfriend Landen, or will she succumb to the charms of her coworker/vampire, Spike? Will I stay interested enough to finish the book? Hard to say at the moment…we’ll have to wait and see.

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