The first in a genre-splicing series of books chronicling the adventures of Literary Detective Thursday Next, The Eyre Affair is a well-crafted thriller steeped with enough references from literature and history to test almost any reader. Despite this challenge, Fforde never loses sight of the need to tell a damn good story, and it is to the author's credit that he incorporates some incredibly dense material into a fast-paced mystery novel.
In the dystopian London of 1985 in which the novel is set, literature is taken very seriously. As a member of the Literary Detection division of the Special Operations Network (SpecOps), Thursday Next is charged with solving crimes having to do with books and literature, from simple forgery to the outright kidnapping of characters. In this alternate universe, in which the Crimean War still rages and the monolithic Goliath Corporation controls everything, the line between reality and books is permeable, and most trouble usually seems to occur when characters begin to move between the two.
The novel's plot, simultaneously incidental and pivotal, involves criminal mastermind and Thursday's nemesis Asheron Hades, who has already murdered one literary character (Mr. Quaverley from Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit), but now has his sights set much higher--on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Like any good arch-villain, Hades doesn't appear much in the novel, instead making his presence felt through his minions and machinations. In addition to Hades, Thursday has to contend with the bureaucracy of SpecOps, corporate lackeys with their own designs on Eyre, and a true love she's not speaking to.
While she's a tough gal who can certainly hold her own, Thursday isn't completely alone against the world. Her father, a rogue agent formerly with the ChronoGuard division of SpecOps, appears sporadically to offer his advice and wisdom. Also aiding in Thursday's mission is her Uncle Mycroft, and inventor with a bag of tricks that test the boundaries of imagination.
Fforde has accomplished two great things with this novel. First, he has given us Thursday Next, an eminently likable heroine who provides a needed note of sanity in the complex, confusing, and often manic world of Affair. Secondly, he has given us the world itself, fully realized with thousands of tiny details throughout the text. From master criminals to talk shows and from fast cars to cloned dodos, Thursday's reality seems every bit as vivid as our own, not to mention far more interesting.
While fans of literature and history will likely get the most out of this novel, there is enough solid writing for any reader to enjoy.
The Eyre Affair is followed by two sequels: Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots.