The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde

Rating: ★★★

Not a terribly compelling story, but a surreal, improvisational, sometimes straining-to-be-whacky book that manages to be at least diverting throughout its quick read. It's a 'catch the bad guy' blockbuster which leans heavily on known tropes, with slightly too many supporting characters who seem to be there almost as cameos from a cast list I don't understand.

The most important part of the book is the setting, which is a sort of fantasy world designed by and for people who did degrees in English literature. In this book's world, the canonical texts and politics of literature and poetry are for some reason extremely relevant and important, to a farcical degree: a significant proportion of the population name themselves after old poets, the nutjobs that knock on your door to evangelise are talking about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays, there are public machines where you pay to have random quotes recited from plays, and there's an entire police division devoted to literary forgeries.

I could see finding all of the above to be a fun commentary on topics in literature, but honestly it struck me as a bit dystopian -- I'm not sure if it was lampooning literary fascination with a particular set of long-dead authors and poets, or merely reflecting it, but my idea of a literary society is not one where empty quotations are recited for no particular reason, or where free interpretations of Shakespeare are legally prohibited.

The plot also diverts through an exploration of the common reader's dream of being able to interact directly with the world of their story. Unfortunately, it diverts mostly through Jane Eyre, the in-world ending of which is altered as a result. I'd probably get more out of this if a) I'd read Jane Ere and b) cared about it. The mechanism also seemed somewhat horrifying -- the characters were aware they were in a story, endlessly looping through the same events, unable to change anything. Very well for Rochester, doomed to love and lose again and again, but what of stories where characters meet less abstract fates, over and over for all eternity?