The highlight of this week has been the existence of 'The Eyre Affair' by Jasper FForde. I found this book on someone's 15 Books List and it is definitely going to be one that I buy for various people who may enjoy it. I confess it did take a while to get going. I started it a couple of weeks ago but then put it down in favour of 'All shall be well ....' (review of this one to come in a day or so) but picked it up again this week and enjoyed it immensely. I was rattling on about it to M on the way home from drama group and then started reading a funny bit out to her (not in the car, but later that evening), and ended up reading the last half of the book aloud, mainly to her but Tish also joined us for brief bits.
Surreal is a totally inadequate word to describe this book. Our heroine is Thursday Next, a literary detective, and she inhabits a world, not unlike our own, but where people are obsessed with literature and art, and science has taken a decidedly strange turn. Instead of street fights between football hooligans the surrealists have a set to with the expressionists, the Dodo has been resurrected and 150,000 people turn up for Mr Quaverley's funeral (he's a minor character in 'Martin Chuzzlewit' who gets extracted and murdered). Her nemesis is Acheron Hades, a criminal with some pretty unusual talents. He steals first the manuscript to 'Martin Chuzzlewit', and then 'Jane Eyre' and, with a motley band of henchmen and the unwilling assistance of Mycroft (Thursday's uncle), he proceeds to hold the literary world to ransom. He is not the only baddie however. The notorious Goliath Corporation, which now pretty much runs the country (having financed the rebuild after WW2, which we lost by the way), is supposedly a benevolent company working for the good of the people, but the aptly named Jack Schitt seems to have other ideas and the power is definitely going to his head.
It reads like a very bizarre detective novel, scattered with incidents, some of which are relevant to the plot, and some of which seem to be just dropped in for atmosphere. There is time shifting, gene splicing, vampires and hundreds of people who change their name to John Milton and then hold conferences about him. It comes as no surprise when the receptionist at the hotel is called Liz Barrett Browning, though why the head of the LiteraTech department is called Braxton Hicks is beyond me.
It is very, very clever. It is almost masquerading as a 'mere' pulp fiction detective story, when really it is scattered through with literary references, which are the basis of much of the humour. I like the fact that the author relishes being intellectual and well read, is not apologetic for being clever but also sees it as something you can have fun with rather than it coming across as dull and academic. There is so much happening it would be impossible to try and describe it, I could never do it justice. The twists and turns of the plot are ingenious, though the denouement in Jane Eyre was somewhat predictable by the time we got there. What I really like is the fact that the minor characters are so well drawn, like Spike (the vampire slayer), although you just get to like them, and then they mostly vanish entirely from the story. We reached the end to discover that there is a second book (and hopefully more after that) and you can see why Fforde has created a world in which anything goes, giving him endless scope for creativity. I can see why Terry Pratchett is nervous.
So, a minor highlight of the book for me was the immortalisation in print of the Framptons. There is a character called Frampton early on in the story, a school caretaker, who turns out to be a vampire who tries to kill Thursday, though fortunately she is saved at the last moment by Spike with a spike. To the best of my knowledge the only other occurrence of our family name in popular culture is the Monty Python sketch called "the man with three buttocks" (viewable here in Youtube) in which a Mr Frampton appears. If anyone knows of any others please let me know. And then on the last page there appears a curious little character called Bartholomew, which is my brother's name, and another that does not appear very frequently anywhere (if you discount Bart Simpson that is).
Anyway, if you have nothing to do next week, get this book, and even if you do go get it anyway and find a few spare minutes.