Review: The Eyre Affair

22 08 2007

I purchased my copy of the book six years ago when I was in the UK for a month. The airport had a sale – buy three books for the price of two. I already had one suitcase full of books, but I couldn’t pass up a deal like that. I think I got six total. I was intrigued by the premise and any book that delved into Jane Eyre had to be worth a look. I was so excited in fact that I started reading it on the plane. I made it through one chapter and I have to admit that I couldn’t make hide nor hair of it. I put it at that point to the airplane and travel and all that. I tried to pick it up again about two months later and made it through two chapters before putting it down. Again, there was just something that I didn’t get about it.

I’m happy to report that I made it all the way through this time and I wasn’t as confounded by the opening chapters as I was before. It only took me about four days to make my way through The Eyre Affair. Speed in this case didn’t mean it was a book I couldn’t put down. Alas it was more of a skimming. Well, not such much a skimming, but I just let the story go and tried not to focus on a lot of the details because I just found them too confusing. It wasn’t a text I was able to question or wonder about in anyway, because the moment I did I seemed to lose the string that carried me through and I just confused myself. I think my main problem was with the alternate history or reality that the novel is set in. I’m not a big fantasy reader at the best of times, but with this alternate reality that was similar and yet not the same as now left me in a kind of in-between state. I wasn’t sure why some changes were made and not others and as with Kalooki Nights maybe I lacked enough basic knowledge of British history to grasp the implications of some of the changes Fforde did make. I also have to admit that I found it hard to believe that there would be a society so enamored of its literature and culture. I would love it that was the case, but it’s not something that I see around me and I was lacking an explanation of how that came to be. It was in terms of that alternate reality that I had to skim a bit. If I wondered at all about why certain things had changed and others hadn’t I was right out of the text.

I also found that I didn’t relate well to the character of Thursday and that also took me out of the story a bit. She is brave and intelligent and has a history and yet she was never three-dimensional to me and I wasn’t invested in her investigation or the back and forth with Landon.

I didn’t dislike it altogether. I found the performance of Richard III re-envisioned as an audience-participation Rocky-Horror-esque event kind of interesting and amusing. It also connected a bit to some of the things that have been said at the talks and lectures I’ve been attending throughout the summer about Shakespeare – in his time – being popular theatre or popular entertainment. The reverence some people have for Shakespeare is sometimes a blocking point, particularly for students and I like how Fforde approaches that in this scene, though certainly he pushes that to the extreme.  Another touch I liked was Mrs. Nakijima’s tourist trips into the world of Jane Eyre.

I have the second novel in the series.  I found it quite cheap at one of the local bookstores awhile ago and when I still felt that I might become enamored of the series.  I’m going to give it a try soon and see if it grows on me at all.

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