Have you ever come across a bit of culture that catches you completely unawares? I’d heard not a whisper of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books until I received the first volume, The Eyre Affair, as part of a book exchange. A glance at the art and telling cover blurb floored me.
The Eyre Affair combines elements of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. – The Wall Street Journal
All of those things? I’m fond of them. And fond doesn’t come close to capturing my affection for Harry and Buffy. To add insult to injury, this series isn’t new at all. The first novel dates to 2001. There are SEVEN books in total … so far. How, for 15 years — more than half my life — had I managed not to know about this thing that sounded so close to my world? It was a thrilling discovery, yes, but also an unsettling one — what else do I not know?!
But I digress, back to the wonderful Miss Thursday Next and her beguiling alternate history. I blasted through The Eyre Affair. Now I’m tucking into the second novel, Lost In A Good Book. 400+ pages into this world and I think I’m only now realizing the immensity of what’s there. Prior to this point I was so caught up in the love of language and the literary history that I didn’t quite recognize that this world is infinite. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, for all I know, Thursday could find a limit in book four!
Here’s a quick overview to whet your appetite. We meet Thursday in London in 1985, but her world is not our own — now or then. In Thursday’s world there’s a persistent war in the Crimea, society is absolutely obsessed with literature and other fine arts, a massive conglomerate is pulling everyone’s strings, time travel is very real and quite suddenly, people and characters are jumping from books and poems to reality and back again.
If that all sounds terribly complicated, well, it is, but it isn’t a hardship for the reader. Yes, these books call for your full attention, but it’s nothing compared to trying to keep everyone’s names straight in Anna Karenina. Quite apart from his unbelievable literary knowledge, Fforde has a gift for world building. He knows when to linger in the details and when the simplest explanation will do. And he even manages multiple layers of reality with relative ease. If you’ve made sense of Inception, you’ll have no problems hopping around here. Rather, you’ll likely find yourself delighted with what’s in front of you.
I won’t say that a love and grasp of classic literature is the price of admission for this series, but it is something like a suggested donation at a free museum. If you don’t have an opinion on The Bard’s identity or fond memories of flipping through the pages of Jane Austen, you’re probably not going to jive with this world of bookworms.
I consider myself at least reasonably well informed about the classics and I am still positive that there are nuances and nods a-plenty that I’ve missed entirely. But you know, I’m not even mad. If anything, I’m inspired to revisit my lapsed attempt to read all the classics … after I finish the Thursday Next series.