Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Club: "The Eyre Affair"

I'm a fan of Jasper Fforde and this was my second reading of The Eyre Affair. Once again, the book made me laugh out loud as I read about an alternate Great Britain where the Crimean War still raged in 1985 and reverse extinction has resurrected dodo birds as pets.

Not so much for other members of our neighborhood book club. Two hadn't finished it -- one of whom found the book confusing and the other has not yet read Jane Eyre. A third member thought the author was just too clever and overly pleased with himself for being clever. That left two of us who enjoyed the book. Our unenthusiastic reader thought the actions of antagonist Acheron Hades were inconsistent, although she did find Spike (special agent for vampire and werewolf disposal) to be an interesting character. Although humorous, the book's themes included endless wars, corporate monopolies, and the doubtful applications of science.

I did locate some book club questions to initiate our discussion. The premise of the Thursday Next series is the ability of people to "jump" into and out of novels. Sort of a theater-in-the-round, genuine 3D version of the book. The prose portal machine facilitates the entry into books, but some people have the natural ability to enter and exit novels. So -- we discussed which books we would like to enter.

Pride and Prejudice and Gone With the Wind were destinations we all agreed on. One member wanted to journey with the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Of course the settings of novels are romanticized and our discussion veered off into the reality of historical periods. Castles are cold and dank places to live, our modern sensibilities would be overwhelmed by the distasteful smells of past eras, and none of us wanted to be sick or injured prior to the advances of modern medicine.

In the process of "saving" Jane Eyre from the nefarious Acheron Hades who absconded with the original manuscript, protagonist Thursday Next changed the "original" dull ending to the one we know today. We talked about book endings we would change. Our romantic selves wanted to tweak Jane Eyre so Rochester wasn't the scarred and blinded man rescued by Jane's love. And we wished Anna Karenina had a happier ending. I wondered if a visitor could hang around after the ending of the novel (apparently not), since I'd like to remain in Gone With the Wind to see how Scarlett fared with Rhett.

As for the special powers exhibited by some of the characters (visiting novels, time travel, immortality), we pretty much agreed we would prefer time travel. One member said it would be less restrictive than the limited worlds of novels, and another thought it would be fascinating to learn more about the motivations behind historical figures and events.

Like most book clubs, our discussions veer off topic. But The Eyre Affair seemed particularly difficult for the group to stick to the subject. One member observed that several of our recent reads lacked rising tension to the climactic scene. That turned into a discussion of recent trends in books with lukewarm plots and anti-hero protagonists. I'm afraid I went into a mini-rant against the Twilight series that inspired the even more badly written Shades of Grey. That raised the perennial question of how such horribly written books become best sellers beside gems like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Our next book is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

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