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The Eyre Affair
Jasper Fforde
Penguin, 304 pages

The Eyre Affair
Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde was born in Wales. He spent several years as a focus puller on big-budget Hollywood productions. In the early 90s, he began to spend much of his free time writing short stories and then novels. His first published novel was The Eyre Affair.

Jasper Fforde Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Lost In A Good Book
SF Site Review: Lost In A Good Book

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Focused as I am on genre fiction, I would have entirely missed The Eyre Affair, if it weren't for my book club at work. This novel by British author Jasper Fforde has been marketed as mainstream literature in Canada, even though it's a Fantasy/alternate history novel with a very Douglas Adams-ish style and content, that fondly reminded me of Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest.

But heck, we know that Margaret Atwood does NOT write science fiction, so why should time travel be labelled as SF?

Thursday Next lives in an alternate Great Britain of 1985, where Literature is the pop culture of the masses. Thousands of people change their names to "John Milton," vending machines recite Othello, and proselytizers go door-to-door recruiting converts to the theory that Francis Bacon really wrote Shakespeare's plays.

Technology has gone in odd directions, too. The popularity of dirigibles has stifled airplane development, but cloning is advanced enough that dodos have been brought back as house pets and are becoming a nuisance. And then, of course, there's time travel -- policed by the Chrono Guard whose job it is to make sure that eccentrics (like Thursday's father) don't go back and alter the past.

Thursday herself works for SO-27, the Literary Detective Division of Special Operations. It's an unglamorous job confiscating counterfeit Fieldings or busting a Samuel Johnson theft gang -- until the original manuscript of "Martin Chuzzlewit" is stolen by an evil genius named Acheron Hades. When Hades manages to lay hands on a bookworm device that allows real people to enter novels and snatch characters out, the stakes become even higher.

You don't have to be a English major to enjoy this rollicking novel -- in fact, you don't even need to have read Jane Eyre -- but it helps. The Eyre Affair is chock-full of literary references and in-jokes, and makes an especially enjoyable read for that segment of the population that has studied Richard III and also taken in midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

There are darker elements in this novel -- such as the rapacious mega-corporation Goliath, or the one hundred and thirty-year long Crimean War which drags on like an endless Viet Nam -- but mostly this is a big romp populated with characters like Paige Turner and Jack Schitt (a Goliath executive, of course).

Fforde's prose style is tight and sparse, as might be expected of someone who writes for the film industry, and his habit of referring to characters by name, without other cues or reminders, occasionally makes it hard to keep track of the large cast. Also, readers familiar with SF and Fantasy will not find the novel wildly innovative, although Fforde has certainly created his own distinctive universe.

The sequel, Lost in a Good Book, is out now, but read The Eyre Affair first.

Copyright © 2003 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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