[Book Review] Conceptually intriguing, casually terrible

Eyre Affair.jpgBook Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

So many things to dislike, so little time to talk about them all.

(Spoilers ahead. All the spoilers, because idgaf.)

I rarely try books more than once, so I should have trusted my gut when I got stuck a couple chapter in – not once but twice. But this week, I got the audiobook, because I really wanted to get through this book about a murder mystery in an alternative history fantasy world of time travel and literature. Lesson learned, because this book was terrible.

I grit my teeth through the prose style and weird perspective shifts. I was willing to suffer through the self-indulgent literary babble and fangirling, because, okay, literature is as religion in this world, and as a book lover, I totally get it. I even powered through the weird inconsistencies: Okay, this universe has casual time travel, and yet the biggest mystery in Fforde’s world is the identity of the true author of Shakespeare’s plays? And Thursday is the first person ever to ask a time traveler to check? Fine, whatever.

There was good stuff. The main character, Thursday Next, had a compelling backstory and I totally got her eagerness to do something with her life. I loved the sneak peaks I got of this strange world in which England was on its 100-something year of its war with Imperial Russia, in which a megacorporation has more power than some governments, and in which French time travelers might be working to sabotage the English in the Napoleonic Wars.

The mystery is intriguing – villain Hades Acheron, who magically knows whenever anyone says his name, is on a rampage. Seemingly, he can’t be killed. He can’t be stopped. And no one knows what he’s after. Then the ball drops – just the first of a series of revelations that move this book from exciting to tedious.

Did you know that this dangerous, deadly villain has no real reason for what he’s doing? He’s just evil. Go figure.

“Where’s the fun in that? Goodness is weakness, pleasantness is poisonous, serenity is mediocrity, and kindness is for losers. The best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts – and let’s face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field – is purely for their own sake.”

To add insult to silly writing, the interactions between Hades and his minions has the comedic absurdity that wouldn’t have been out of place in Despicable Me. It’s jarring after the realistic rendering of Thursday’s trauma and desperate fight against Hades.

Then I lost patience with Thursday over her unnecessary romantic drama. The nail in coffin, though, was when her attempt to double-cross Hades fails, and instead of worrying about what the infuriated madman might do to Thursday’s loved one (and to innocents in general), she sinks into a romantic slump. (It must run in the family, because when Thursday’s uncle is not only forced to be an accomplice to murder and terrorism, and has everything he loved under threat, the thing he really worries about is whether his wife might have been flirting with a ghost of a poet.)

There’s this gap between the seriousness of the story setup and its emotional depth, and then the lackadaisical way the book hops the genre rails.

Stupidity abounds throughout. For example, if you think that after realizing that Hades can’t be shot, Thursday would have some sort of alternative plan the next time she goes after Hades…you’d be very wrong. That and every literal thing that Thursday accomplishes is through luck or deus ex machina or both.

Definitely not my cup of tea.

Canary verdict:

As if there was ever any doubt.

What about you, canaries? What did you think of this book?

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