The Paper Chase
Review from The LA Times
March 17th 2002
Jamie James

Welcome to Wonderland. The year is 1985. The Crimean War is in its 131st year; cloned dodos are popular pets; air travel by dirigible is the favoured way of skipping about the realm. ANd life as we know it is bent not by political or religious strife but by literary factionalism. The nightly news reports fierce street fights between surrealists and classicists. The Stratfordians orthodoxy is under siege by militant Baconians and rowdy advocates of Christopher Marlowe.

And our heroine, Thursday Next, A literaTec - as police detectives in this bookish world are called - is out to thwart the literary terrorism of criminal archfiend Acheron Hades, whose gang hides out in the lawless People's republic of Wales. Next's uncle Mycroft (a name borrowed from Sherlock Holmes' even brainier brother) has invented a machine that transports the user into works of literature. When he tries out the prose portal on his wife, she gets lost in Wordsworth's "I wandered Lonely as a Cloud", where the elderly poet of the Lake District gets fresh with her.

When Hades, an amalgam of movie and cartoon bad guys along the lines of Mike Myers' Dr Evil gets the device in his clutches, his first caper is modest, the kidnapping and execution of a minor character in Dickens' "Martin Chuzzlewit", but then he raises the stakes by kidnapping the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre". All England is in an uproar: "Within two hours every LiteraTec department was besieged by calls from worried Bronte readers. WIthin four hours the president of the Bronte federation had seen the Prime MInister." As the investigation progresses, Next's boss has police officers desperately trying to follow breaking events n the case by reading Bronte's novel.

Overflowing with brazen joke thievery and appropriated plot devices, Jasper Fforde's "The Eyre Affair" is a tour de force in its particular genre - science fiction literary detective thriller - as small as that genre may be. Characters pop in and out of works of fiction in a manner patented by Woody Allen (in his short story "The Kugelmass Episode" and the film "The Purple Rose of Cairo") and in scrappy suburban performances of "Richard III" is an inspired spoof on midnight screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The narrative moves at a breakneck pace. Readers who accept the principle of pastiche that underlies the novel's conception will be rewarded with a clever entertainment that works well both as an adventure yarn and as a witty sendup of contemporary trash media.

For next page scroll down or click HERE

LA Times review cont.

Although it champions literary masterpieces, "The Eyre Affair" is far from forbiddingly erudite. If you've forgotten the plot of "Jane Eyre:, don't doubt that Next will provide a handy synopsis, and Fforde's literary allusions cease well before the end of the 19th century, thereby omitting any mention of potentially pesky modernist authors. Much of the humour is sophomorphic: f reading about characters named Millon de Floss or Landen Parke-Laine or Victor Analogy makes you wince, then "The Eyre Affair" probably won't amuse you.

In this debut, Fforde would have benefited from a more disciplined style: Many of his sentences have a clumsy, amateurish quality that unintentionally evokes the works of Franklin W Dixon and Carolyn Drew (he had a large ring on his middle finger with a curious and distinctive pattern on it"); malapropisms crop up in others ("I looked over the parapet but I couldn't se anything remiss"). And the flat romantic subplot is obviously only there to satisfy convention.

"The Eyre Affair" is transparently aimed at Hollywood and indeed comes with art direction tips to the special effects crew: Fforde worked for 13 years as a camera technician in the film industry, and it shows. That's hardly damning nowadays, or even unusual, but some of the novel's humour might work better on the screen than it does on the page: Early in the book, for example, in a spoof of the gun toting parson in a Western, Next's life is saved when a copy of "Jane Eyre" in her breast pocket takes a bullet.

Yet it is useful to recall that many of the literary masters who make cameo appearances in "The Eyre Affair" didn't scruple to boil the pot themselves; Poe, Dickens and Chesterton, after all, were the Grishams of their day. Lovers of great literature with a fondness for light genre fiction and a tolerance for whimsy will feel instantly as home with "The Eyre Affair" and find the end of the book, predictable though it may be, drawing nigh all too soon.