Hello and happy Sunday to you lovely people!
This post is coming to you in anticipation of World Book Night on 23rd April. I’ll be writing more about the event itself on Tuesday but, after seeing that one of my favourite reads – The Eyre Affair – was on the World Book Night list, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to offer up a review. You may remember from my last What I’m Reading Wednesday post that I’ve been re-reading the book over the past week, so I am now sufficiently refreshed and ready to go…
The Eyre Affair is quite easily one of the cleverest books that I have read. Blending the surreal with some truly intelligent parody and an incredible number of literary allusions, this is undoubtedly a book for any bibliophile. The novel is set in an alternative universe. It is Britain, it is 1985, but, in this world, literature is the thing. It is a world in which children are named after authors and characters, where William Shakespeare machines spout out play extracts for 10p, where Surrealists and Renaissancites engage in street riots.
“Miltons were, on the whole, the most enthusiastic poet followers. A flick through the London telephone directory would yield about four thousand John Miltons, two thousand William Blakes, a thousand or so Samuel Coleridges, five hundred Percy Shelleys, the same of Wordsworth and Keats, and a handful of Drydens. Such mass name-changing could have problems in law enforcement. Following an incident in a pub where the assailant, victim, witness, landlord, arresting officer and judge had all been called Alfred Tennyson, a law had been passed compelling each namesake to carry a registration number tattooed behind the ear. It hadn’t been well received – few really practical law-enforcement measures ever are,” (p.107).
The book follows Thursday Next, a literary detective (LiteraTec) for the mysterious SpecOps, as she chases down the evil and illusive Acheron Hades. After the creation of a machine that allows an individual to blur the boundaries of reality and fiction by making trips into novels, Hades embarks upon a criminal escapade of the worst proportions. Beginning with the theft of the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit and the subsequent murder of one of its minor characters (erasing him from the novel altogether), Hades escalates by removing Jane Eyre from her namesake story. Thursday, the only LiteraTec with an ability to withstand Hades’ powers of persuasion and influence, must race against time to get Jane back into the novel and ensure that the narrative survives.
So, my verdict. Well, as inadequate a summarising thought as it may seem, this book is just fantastic. Granted, it is not a difficult read and offers no epiphanies or opportunities for introspection. But this is a masterpiece of a different kind. The Eyre Affair is the love-child of the best kinds of parody and satire, executed with a style that harps to Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. The numerous literary allusions will have enormous appeal for those who (like me) believe that literature really is the thing and you will absolutely find yourself laughing out loud throughout (uncomfortable when reading on a commuter train – I advise against). Re-reading The Eyre Affair, I remain astonished at how a book that is unashamedly comic and playful could be simultaneously so intelligent. Case in point:
“There was a knock at the door and Buckett instinctively reached for his handgun. He was more on edge that I had thought. ‘Easy, Buckett. I’ll get it.’ He joined me at the door and released the safety from his pistol. I looked at him and he nodded back in reply. ‘Who’s there?’ I said without opening the door. ‘Hello!’ replied a voice. ‘My name’s Edmund Capillary. Have you ever stopped to wonder whether it was really William Shakespeare who penned all those wonderful plays?’ We both breathed a sigh of relief and Buckett put the safety back on his automatic, muttering under his breath: ‘Bloody Baconians!’ ‘Steady,’ I replied, ‘it’s not illegal.’ ‘More’s the pity.’ ‘Shh.’ I opened the door on the security chain and found a small man in a lumpy corduroy suit. He was holding a dog-eared ID for me to see and politely raised his hat with a nervous smile. The Baconians were quite mad but for the most part harmless. Their purpose in life was to prove that Francis Bacon and not Will Shakespeare had penned the greatest plays in the English language…’Hello!’ said the Baconian brightly. ‘Can I take a moment of your time?'” (p.39).
In short (or not, as the case may be), this book is a huge amount of fun. Throw in one of the most capable female heroines and you have a novel well worth reading. That it carries off first-person narration so effortlessly (something that I maintain is extremely difficult to do), merely adds to the obvious literary skill demonstrated by its author. There is a reason why The Eyre Affair was selected to be on the competitive list of books promoted for the 2013 World Book Night – because it is, beyond anything, a book for lovers of literature. So use this World Book Night to give The Eyre Affair a go. I promise you’ll enjoy the adventure!