In the world of the Thursday Next series, things aren’t always as they seem. In fact, they’re usually not. In Jasper Fforde’s first book The Eyre Affair, we are introduced to the intelligent and intrepid Thursday Next, a British Special Operations (SpecOps) officer in a world that hasn’t quite figured itself out yet. As the back cover says: “Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously.” Sure you’ve got vampires and werewolves, but also performances of Richard III staged like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, John Milton Number 496, and time warps that can be sealed with a basketball. But most importantly for Thursday, there is the Prose Portal (run by bookworms), which can read you in and out of any book you choose.
Enter an evil villain, a massive corporation of debatable morals, Jane Eyre missing from her own story, and you’ve got the makings of a story! Nothing is as it seems, and anything could change at a moment’s notice, but Thursday has still got to get Jane back in the book, her Aunt out of a Wordsworth poem, stop a war, and make sure her old flame Landon Parke-Laine doesn’t marry Daisy Mutlar…
Thursday Next (yes, she’s been hearing those jokes since the third grade) is a crafty heroine who pops from one improbable situation to the next without batting an eyelash. She is funny and good-humored, but also a capable detective and fighter. More impressive is her mental prowess and quick-thinking – she manipulates situations just right (when it counts) and even saves her own ass a time or two. But she is plagued by repercussions from her time in the Crimean War (yes, that Crimean War) – struggling to right both Landon’s and her own actions against her brother’s death; which is made particularly difficult by the fact that the Crimean War is still going on in 1985. It’s a rather neat commentary on the current state of things, and though it’s very tongue-in-cheek, it’s also not funny at all.
Furthermore, readers get a heaping dash of literary allusion – great if you’re familiar with classical literature, but not necessary. Fforde peppers each page with broad winks to readers – a receptionist named Liz Barrett-Browning, Detective Inspector Oswald Mandias, and a villain named Jack Schitt. We get to spend time with Edward Fairfax Rochester when he’s not called to be in the manuscript, and Thursday’s father jumps in and out of time (and the story) trying to ensure that the Duke of Wellington actually dies when he’s meant to, and the rest of history plays out (relatively) accurately. As I mentioned, great fun for the higher-grade reader (especially the well-informed one), and the second book in the series (Lost in a Good Book) is even better: it features the legendary Miss Havisham running about in a mackintosh as Thursday’s Jurisfiction mentor.
Perfect for the lit-nerd, but enjoyable whatever your bent! So check them all out: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, and First Among Sequels.