Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jasper Fforde and The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde's worlds are written reality-adjacent. That is, the characters prance along in their familiar lives, performing recognizable acts, until suddenly one thing is very non-real.[1] Then two things, interspersed with quotidian details.[2] These pile atop each other, resulting in hilarious scenarios[3] ranging from slapstick humor to sotto voce jokes delivered to the reader with a wink. One particularly terrible joke setup is several books long and results in a pun so terrible that it finishes the chapter.

Mr. Fforde's worldbuilding neither explains how magic left the world and we ended up with the reality we have (like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or Ted Chiang's Seventy-Two Letters), nor how a little change in our reality leads to a different world (e.g., recently the Newsflesh books), but just nearby. Some things are relatable, but anytime, a sudden difference may arise and smack readers in the face like a herring.[3]

The Eyre Affair's protagonist, Thursday Next, is a literary detective. This entails many bizarre tasks, as well as the mundane; at one point the officer on duty reports, "I've got most of the office reading Jane Eyre at the moment in case anything unusual happens --- all quiet so far."[4] For the entirety of The Eyre Affair --- as well as the next five books in the series -- Thursday rushes comically around, hurtling from one hilarious emergency to the next. The emergencies build smoothly to a climax, where Thursday, temporarily recursive-written another book, witnesses the fire at Mr. Rochester's house in Jane Eyre. Not yet satisfied, Mr. Fforde uses the denouement to parody Poe's The Raven, explain the authorship of Shakespeare's work, and introduce several time-travelling characters from later books in the series, mid-their-plots.

The Eyre Affair, and for that matter the entire Thursday Next series, is a delightful read. These books singlehandedly justify all degrees ever granted in literature. I wholeheartedly recommend them; how else will you appreciate mad-uncle Mycroft's prototype of a sarcasm early-warning device [5] or punctuation-devouring bookworms?

This post's theme word is frangible, "capable of being broken." It turns out that the classics are quite frangible!

[1] In The Eyre Affair, the narrator Thursday Next is a retired war veteran, working a government job and reminiscing about her lost love... whose father is a renegade time-travelling ChronoGuard, and can pause time at will.

[2] Thursday's pet, Pickwick, is irritable and attention-seeky... and a dodo built from an at-home unextinction kit. 

[3] Door-to-door proselytizers advocate not religions but different authorships of Shakespeare's plays. Red herrings abound.

[4] In my ebook, page 186 of 238.

[5] p. 84 of 238