Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.
This book was not exactly what I was expecting. You know what? It was so much better. It was alternate reality, vaguely steampunk-y, time travelling, crime-come-adventure story goodness in which literary characters perform their roles in their respective novels like actors on a stage and the heroine is an awesome 36 year old war vet who works for the book police. And if I had known all of that, I would have read the book when I first had it in my hands several years ago.
Let’s start with the heroine, shall we? Thursday Next, for all she has a ridiculous name, is one of the least annoying female main characters I’ve ever come across, and this immediately endeared her to me. From the very beginning I got a very Dana Scully vibe from her, and this carried on throughout the novel. She’s gets shit done, you know? She also has an amazing war veteran back story, a trendy rouge time travelling father, and is all but on a first name basis with Mr Edward Rochester – what’s not to like? But I loved all of the characters, seriously, all of them. The subtle puns in the names were fantastic and the villain was snarky, righteous and pure evil. There’s 101 background characters like Spike, the dreadlocked vampire and werewolf hunter guy, who didn’t get nearly enough screentime and had better show up in future novels.
Possibly my favourite aspect of the novel though was the way in which all of the different storylines interacted with one another and, most importantly, how they never impeded the progress of the main storyline. The whole idea that someone could kidnap and hold literary figures ransom – and the way to save them is by delving into the book yourself – is so great and so worthy of proper exposition, that letting one of the many (albeit amazing) subplots take over would have been a rel shame. And amazing, rich, subplots they were. I mean, you’ve got the time travel thing, the war thing, the ex boyfriend vs the brother thing, the history with the villain thing, the father thing… I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
The Eyre Affair gave me everything I never knew I wanted from a book, and it frustrates me that it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it. On the plus side, I now have several more Thursday Next novels to get my hands on – and yet another reason to finally read Jane Eyre.