These were some of the questions that The Eyre Affair explored. This is the first of Jasper Fforde's novels that I've read, and I'm glad I did. The Eyre Affair so surprisingly cracked me up I had to ditch my review materials away (I went home on the pretense that I was going to review for the comprehensive exam -- that wasn't happening) and buried my nose on my Php 20-peso secondhand copy I got from Booksale.
So tell me. Who wouldn't fall for a story with a heroine named Thursday Next, whose father was a time traveler being hunted by the authorities? Thursday had a genetically engineered pet dodo named Pickwick (the name I'll give the next dog my father gets -- a lazy, sleepy chow chow, I hope). She was an investigator in a government agency called Special Operations Network where she was called a Literary Detective. That meant she hunted literary forgerers and thieves of original manuscripts, and, as the novel progressed, she got to talk to actual characters from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Her hunt for Hades Acheron, the world's third most dangerous man, was the centerpoint of the story. Hades had magical powers, no bullet could kill him, and he could hear his name from miles away. The authorities never mentioned his name during a raid, lest they tip him off.
I found the story funny and witty and very English. Consider this conversation in the last chapter (and I don't mean to spoil anything, by the way) where Landen, Thursday's boyfriend, finally meets her father, the time-traveler:
"How are you, my boy? Have you had a vasectomy?"
"Well, no," replied Landen, vaguely embarrassed.
"How about a heavy tackle playing rugby?"
"What about a cricket ball in the goolies?"
"Good. Then we might get some grandchildren out of this fiasco. It's high time little Thursday here was popping out some sprogs instead of dashing around like some wild mountain piglet -- "
The novel had the ingredients that made great entertainment. Magic, science fiction, literature -- the author must be a geek. It was a far cry from being a serious book but it tackled serious matters without being boring. Which is how it should be, don't you think so?
Maybe I should end with a lesson I got from the book: one has to get the stories straight, a mantra that can never be overemphasized, not just for literary critics but for ordinary readers like me. The authors write novels for a reason, and muddling with the details, even the smallest of them, can change entire story altogether. The story has to interpret itself. The goal of every reader is to seek that writer's interpretation, not to make his own up, unless the author wrote his work for that precise purpose.