Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Eyre Affair - History and Humor

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Eyre Affair there are spoilers in this essay.

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An interesting protagonist, a multi-layered plot expertly woven, and the set-up for future books in the series--The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde has a lot going for it. The only thing that derailed me a bit were some of the point-of-view hopping choices. For me, though, it was the history and the humor that made this a great alternate history novel.

I have to admit, I don't know historical facts all that well, so I read the first chapter out loud to my husband, so he could confirm for me what was and wasn't a part of our own timeline. Even if I didn't have a husband who is knowledgeable when it comes to history, or if I chose not to look the historical facts up, not knowing our own history wouldn't have detracted from my reading. It was presented in such a way that I knew things were different from our own timeline, even if I didn't know specifically how. Thursday's quirky father grills her about history, and I immediately knew we were in an alternate history. And most of the big historical differences were presented in the first chapter, instead of bombarding the reader throughout the novel.

What made the alternate history even easier to swallow, though, was the humor added into the mix. We're greeted with that humor in the first sentence: "My father had a face that could stop a clock" (1). It made me laugh, at least. And it's quickly explained to us that this is not an insult, but a literal statement, as Thursday's father is part of the ChronoGuard and can cause time to stand still. Even the description of the world as it's frozen, then subsequently unfrozen, around Thursday when her father arrives has humor in it. When time freezes, Thursday observes, "Cars and trams halted in the streets and a cyclist involved in an accident stopped in midair, the look of fear frozen on his face as he paused two feet from the hard asphalt" (3). And we revisit that cyclist once Thursday's father leaves. "...and over the road the cyclist hit the asphalt with a thud" (6). The banter back and forth between Thursday and her father is even laced with humor. A grand beginning, the humorous making sure the history doesn't weigh down the prose.

Of course, the humor doesn't stop after chapter one. Thursday can be very straightforward at times, her responses to some questions sounding funny when read. Even names in this novel can be humorous, most being a play on words that got a snigger or two out of me. Some of the quotes at the beginning of each chapter are written by Millon De Floss, a silly nod at the Victorian era writers, since most of the novel concerns Jane Eyre. The name that got the biggest response out of me was Jack Schitt--what a perfect name for a greedy corporate shill.

Fforde also uses things from our own timeline to tickle the funny bone. Thursday's Uncle Mycroft is an inventor--many of his inventions are quirky and interesting. One particular invention referenced is a Retinal Screen-Saver. "Pretty soon I was staring at a whole host of brightly colored fish all swimming in front of my closed eyes....the scene shifted to an inky-black starfield; it seemed as though I was traveling through space." (98). The joke finally clicked for me with the final shift. "'Or how about this?' asked Mycroft, changing the scene to a parade of flying toasters" (99). Ah, the humor of those first screensavers on computers. Too funny.

The Eyre Affair is a wonderful read, and the humor helping the alternate history along is only one of the great things about this book. I could probably go on, at length, about many other things I enjoyed, but I'll refrain from doing so. Though, I will mention, I now want a pet dodo that goes plock-plock.


Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. New York: Penguin Group Inc., 2003.

NEXT UP: A look at the novel Boneshaker.

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