In 2004, I was living for a summer in London and walked around the corner to my local book shop to find a paperback to travel with up to Scotland. I was recommended Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, the first book in a series about a woman who would become my heroine for all time, Thursday Next. If you need something with a bit of humor, feminism, and that ranks pretty high on the literary nerd scale I cannot recommend the series enough.
I have attempted to summarize the plot several times to friends, but somehow always come back to just saying, you have to read this, trust me. While I am right, I will include this handy Wikipedia summary, “It takes place in alternative 1985, where literary detective Thursday Next pursues a master criminal through the world of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.” Is that what it is about? Yes. Is that all it is about? No. But that would take several hours to explain, so just easier for you to read the book right?
Do you like classic literature? Do you like a good mystery? Do you like women kicking ass? Witty writing? Well paced story with a few twists and turns? Great, this book is for you, stop reading, download it now. (Okay maybe finish reading this post.)
WHY IS THIS A GREAT BOOK FOR SMART WOMEN?
Two words, Thursday. Next. She is a woman in her mid-30s when we meet her, and she is not about to be a damsel in distress or have a mid-life crisis. She is a veteran, who lost a brother and her relationship to the war, this is not the time for a lack of strength. But at the same time she is vulnerable, when she first sees her former boyfriend in the novel you instantly feel for them and want to understand how they got to this point. The author’s ability to make you feel their history so early in the novel is one of Fforde’s many talents. He is a master story teller, but he can also write characters you care about almost instantly.
In high school every summer we had to read six classic books in between years, and then on the very first day of school write an essay on one of them. You are now asking yourself how could that fall into the loved section, but let me explain. This book finally found a use for all that summer vacation time committed to reading obscure Charles Dickens novels. Pickwick the pet dodo of our heroine that says, plock plock, was my reward for reading The Pickwick Papers. And for even a casual reader of classic literature the rewards are countless for the jokes you will come across in this series.
As with any series the later books somehow cannot live up to the original. But as a fan of several series I have usually attributed this more to the original being your first taste of a world and the following books not being able to match that original spark you felt with the material rather than a real decline in quality. But while I have followed the Thursday Next series religiously, some of the authors other books have been less successful for me.
This is the kind of book that I would categorize as a summer beach read, but not in what I think of as the traditional connotation of such a categorization. I am a person who enjoys books that are not contemporary settings, basically I will read anything that does not feel like I or somebody I know could live through it. Modern family dramas, girl in the big city novels, not my particular cup of tea. But this book managed to create a character that I could so thoroughly identify with and yet also she’s a literary detective, which is sadly not a job I will be taking up anytime soon.