Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Eyre-ing Out My Mind

Currently Reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

After finishing (the upsettingly abridged version of) The Count of Monte Cristo back in June, I decided I needed a bit of a mental break. Just as summer signaled the end of assigned readings while I was in school, it signaled the end of challenging reading for me this year. Even though I liked The Count of Monte Cristo, I just needed a book that you wouldn’t study in a classroom; I needed a serving of book candy.

With this in mind, I picked up Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. A quick paced, intriguing plot with a strong, likeable heroine and endless clever allusions to classic literature, The Eyre Affair was an enjoyable way to pass the time on my now daily metro rides. In fact, it was so enjoyable that I promptly went out and bought the next two books in the series, Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots, and thus continued my book candy binge. I’m now anxiously awaiting the following four books, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, One of our Thursday Nexts is Missing, and The Woman Who Died A Lot, as anticipated birthday presents at the end of the month.

The story takes place in an alternate reality in which time travel is possible; dodos are a popular pet; Neanderthals have been resurrected; and literature is taken seriously enough that there are literary detectives who investigate crimes against literature. One such literary detective is the heroine, Thursday Next, who ultimately gets wrapped up in a case in which she has to return the kidnapped Jane Eyre to her rightful place in her novel.

The sequels go on to introduce the complex world of Fiction, including the agency that governs crimes from within, Jurisfiction. While hiding out, Thursday Next eventually joins the ranks among other agents like Miss Haversham from Great Expectations. (Side note: I’m really intrigued to read Great Expectations now just to see how accurate Fforde’s depiction of the character is.)

There are three particular reasons that I really liked reading The Eyre Affair and its sequels.

The first is the number of literary inside jokes. I loved understanding the references to classic literature and getting caught up in the various Shakespeare authorship debates! And when I didn’t understand a joke, it made me want to read the referenced material so that I would. This makes this book special in that it not only makes its readers want to continue with the series, but it inspires them to read other books. I think that’s wonderful!

Plus, come on, who doesn’t love a good literature or grammar joke?

The second is that I love the idea that characters in novels have a life beyond the page. As someone who still somewhat subscribes to the idea that her stuffed animals came to life when she left the room, Toy Story-style, I really like to think of my favorite characters existing outside of their stories, acting as agents for Jurisfiction or needing walkmans to pass the time between their scenes. You get so attached to these characters that they start to feel like real people, friends of yours, so it’s nice to think that even after your time with them has finished because you’ve finished reading the novel that your friends go on living, like a friend who has moved across the country or something.

The third reason I liked this novel is that I love that this story provides plausible – if fantastical – explanations for some of the weird plot points of Jane Eyre. The most important and novel-altering is the mysterious voice that calls out Jane’s name, convincing her to suddenly return to Rochester. I’m not sure what Charlotte Bronte had in mind for the explanation of that bizarre and random voice, but I like the idea that it was Thursday Next because she had to get Jane back to Rochester so she could escape the novel. I also like the idea that the fire that causes Rochester’s injuries was an accident rather than an intended plot point set down by the author. It always felt a bit cruel and odd that Bronte would maim Rochester and destroy Thornfield Hall. Plus, the fire is never really explained beyond a weak, “Mrs. Rochester is crazy! Of course she’d burn down the house!” So having it be the setting for the pivotal battle between the sociopath villain Hades and Thursday Next feels like a much more reasonable explanation. I applaud Fforde’s cleverness and creativity for filling in these gaps.

These books were a wonderful surprise and I’m very excited to continue the series.

Especially since reading Moby Dick might just kill me.