Book Review: The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Frforde, draws on a mix of genres, such as humour thriller, sci-fi, detective and fantasy. It tells the story of Thursday Next, a literary detective in an alternative 1985, where everyone is obsessed with literature. The real world and the “book world” overlap, quite literally bringing citizens’ favourite book characters to life, which is all fun and games… until Jane Eyre is kidnapped.

My favourite aspect of The Eyre Affair was its witty references to “pop” literature, such as the Dickens’ books – this reminded me of Dickensian, the BBC drama set within the fictional world of Dickens – or the Shakespeare/Marlowe conspiracy theory. At times, these references seemed a little heavy-handed, but I think this excess paid off, adding to the charm of the alternative reality.

I also appreciated how Thursday’s own narrative, in some ways, mirrored the narrative of Jane Eyre. This was a clever and well-executed idea, and I enjoyed the allusion to how Thursday’s intervention and “reconstruction” of Jane Eyre resulted in the Bronte story we know and love today.

Yet despite its title, The Eyre Affair took longer than expected to focus on its main plot, the Jane Eyre kidnapping.

A lot of time was spent building the world with at times clunky or (dare I say it) cheesy sci-fi abstract descriptions, and introducing characters who, to me, held no significant role in the narrative. Although world-building is a significant part of any series, I prefer books where this description and scene-setting is done more subtly, rather than a heavy exposition.

However, the time spent in The Eyre Affair background and character descriptions may reduce the level of exposition needed further down the line, and these characters may well be more significant in future books in the Thursday Next series, so I can’t complain too much.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair. Although he “relies” on existing texts and authors (to an extent) to construct his own story, he blends his own ideas and style with existing characters and texts well, and it was a fun, light-hearted read.

I’d love to read the rest of the Thursday Next series, as well as more books by Jasper Fforde, an author previously unknown to me.

– Judith

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Themes in: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

‘Reader, I married him.’

Jane Eyre is a Victorian Gothic novel, telling the story, from a first-person perspective, of the protagonist Jane Eyre. She is left in the “care” of her aunt and cousins after the death of her parents, but is treated horribly and is eventually sent away to boarding school. She grows up to train and work as a governess for the aloof and proud Mr Rochester. Jane begins to develop romantic feelings for Rochester, but she doesn’t know he is hiding a terrible secret.

To me, the most noticeable theme in Jane Eyre is Bronte’s use of the Gothic. I studied Gothic literature at A Level – not Jane Eyre sadly – but that made it easy for me to spot Gothic conventions whilst reading it.

The Gothic

Jane is described metaphorically as an ‘elf’, ‘changeling’ and ‘fairy’, supernatural creatures which could have either good or bad connotations, depending on which myths or fairy-tales you read. Thornfield Hall, Rochester’s home, is an isolated mansion with many abandoned rooms and secret passages, the perfect place for scary and supernatural occurrences. There is also lots of powerful colour symbolism, using key Gothic colours: black, white and red. Most notably, the Red Room, in which Jane is imprisoned as a girl, has ‘crimson’ bedcovers, ‘red’ carpets and dark, mahogany furniture to haunt and remind Jane of her uncle, whose dead body was laid out in the Red Room. The room is symbolic of Jane’s suffering, entrapment and a strong reminder of the ever-presence of death.

Love

Another theme in Jane Eyre is love. I’ve heard many refer to Jane Eyre as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Whilst I disagree with this – I see Jane Eyre as primarily Gothic, not romantic – the theme of love is prevalent nonetheless. Jane desires to be genuinely loved and valued. This is perfectly justifiable, after being denied a true family, and the abuse she endured from her aunt and cousins. These desires are why she rejects St. John’s marriage proposal, because a marriage built around purpose or function would lack the love and value she longs for. Furthermore, this is why she rejects Rochester’s proposal to be his mistress: Jane is an independent and strong woman who will not let herself be devalued by being subject to a man’s whims and losing her integrity.

Slavery

The final theme I want to talk about in Jane Eyre, which I hadn’t considered before until a lecture, is slavery, in relation to the character of Bertha. Bertha is taken by Rochester from the Caribbean and kept physically imprisoned at Thornfield Hall, out of sight. This reflects how, slaves were presented during the time of the slave trade, in paintings, for example, “lurking” behind the aristocracy, ready to obey. In addition, Bertha is always described in supernatural and animalistic ways, such as ‘clothed hyena’, ‘maniac’, and ‘shaggy locks’. These descriptions are significant because she is a white creole, and so has mixed racial heritage. This imagery suggests Bertha is “other” and exotic – like a creature – simply because of her race. This parallels the racist approach white Britons had towards non-white individuals at the time.

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Thank you for reading!

– Judith

Halloween Book Review: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey is a satirical Gothic work by Jane Austen. The protagonist Catherine, travels to Northanger Abbey and imagines her life as parallel to the plot of a Gothic novel, although her real life brings her back down to earth.

Although Northanger Abbey isn’t strictly a Gothic novel, or in fact wholly a ghost story, I wanted to talk about some more Jane Austen, and I didn’t feel like discussing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was entirely appropriate in the run-up to Halloween!

I’m a huge fan of the Gothic genre, and so I went into reading Northanger Abbey with great excitement, eagerly waiting for Austen to satirise the genre as much as she could.

However, I was disappointed in how long it took Austen to start talking properly about the Gothic; I was halfway through the novel and Catherine hadn’t even arrived to Northanger Abbey yet! I did appreciate the references to some more Gothic classics though, such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.

The character of Henry was also really amusing – he painted fantastic Gothic images in Catherine’s mind, images which reminded me of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, of haunted rooms, and hints at mysterious family deaths, raising the question of ghosts.

It’s particularly ironic to read Northanger Abbey as a Gothic-loving English student, because it makes me even more aware of the stereotypical Gothic conventions. I can only imagine how Austen’s readers felt at the time, when the Gothic genre was so popular.

All in all, I did enjoy Northanger Abbey but it’s definitely not my favourite Austen novel.

– Judith