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The Eyre Affair
Review for emagazine
By Sam Sedgeman, May, 2003

"My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don't mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who could reduce time to an ultra-slow trickle."

Something other is happening in the Swindon of 1985...

Where all is bought, sold and controlled by the ubiquitous GOLIATH corporation, the mysterious Chronoguard close time-warps on the M1, and literary detective Thursday Next (and her pet dodo Pickwick) spends her time authenticating Milton and spotting counterfeit Shelley.

Such is the setting for Jasper Fforde's first novel, a masterpiece of intricate plots and subplots, oddly named characters (such as Victor Analogy and Jack Schitt) and eccentric satirical parallels with our own world. After Thursday's uncle Mycroft invents a revolutionary device known as the Prose Portal, it is not too long before the villainous Acheron Hades, third most wanted man on the planet, steals it and begins holding literary characters to ransom. Jane Eyre herself has been plucked from the pages of her own novel, and it is up to Thursday to put fiction back on the bookshelf. On her way she must find time to stop the ongoing Crimean conflict, rescue her Aunt from inside a Wordsworth poem, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.

"I had learned from my mother's many letters that Uncle Mycroft had invented a method of sending pizzas by fax and a 2B pencil with an inbuilt spell-checker, but what he was currently working on, I had no idea..."

The most unique aspect of this novel is that it defies classification. Elements of Crime, Fantasy, Science Fiction and of course Comedy are blended together in conjunction with magnificent storytelling.

Told in the first person, the novel contains strong characters who all add realistic depth to the marvellous universe Fforde has created. There are cameos from members of the Baconians, for example, who travel like Jehovah's witnesses from house to house, trying to convince people that Sir Francis Bacon was responsible for the Shakespearian plays. The book jumps imaginatively in and out of fiction, as Thursday travels into Jane Eyre to repair Acheron's damage, and sees many a conversation between her and the characters of the book. The plot line of Jane Eyre is edited and re-edited, and the way fiction blends with fiction is unlike anything I have ever read before.

"ŠRochester was swearing at finding himself in a pool of water.
'Is there a flood?' he asked.
'No sir, but there has been a fire,' Jane replied. 'Get up do; you are quenched now. I will fetch you a candle.'
Rochester caught sight of me at the door, and gave me a wink before rapidly returning his features to a look of consternation..."

In such a book about books, it is marvellous to see so many hidden jokes in the text, some more obvious than others, for example to stare incredulous at the chapter list, whilst flicking to a point half way through the novel to discover that there is no chapter thirteen. (although it is listed along with the other chapters, under the name of 'The church at Capel-y-ffin'). Also included are advertisements for the TOAST marketing board, (Eat more toast! It's tasty and nutritious...) and Pete and Dave's dodo emporium.

This book is funny, imaginative, complex, rewarding and an absolute joy to read. 'A silly book for smart people', as one reviewer said, and a light hearted but intelligent read. Great fun. Fforde's second novel, 'Lost in a good book' continues to follow the adventures of Thursday Next, and is equally as good as his first. The third book in the series, 'The well of lost plots', comes out in July this year. For more information on 'The Eyre Affair', 'Lost in a good book' and all things Ffordian, log on to www.Jasperfforde.com

The world will never look the same againŠ

Sam Sedgman