Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Eyre Affair

I may bitch, rant and moan about my parents like most other mortals, but when it comes to the habit of reading, I am eternally grateful to them. My siblings and I were postively encouraged to read at every step of the way- a habit that I've retained over the years. I remember my sister(who had become a mother very recently) once coming in asking me for a "light" book to read. "Light? How light?" I queried. "Well, as light as possible. I'm breast feeding, its a crashing bore and I need something I can balance on his head." I'm delighted to report that fifteen years later the kid who had "lite lit" balanced on his head is now an avid reader himself.
This week has been gloomy as I've been ploughed with work and I've cocked up on a project. Something staring me in the face which I hadn't acknowledged. In any case it is always good to have intimations of fallibility flash by once in a while - failing which I'm sure I'd be perfect. It was in this Kafkaesque state of mind that I picked up a book by the strangely named Jasper Fforde-that's not a typo. "The Eyre Affair" is charming and intelligent at the same time. Much better than the pulp fiction many read to keep themselves afloat. It is based on an equally curiously named detective -Thursday Next and her adventures in a surreal Britain.
The year is 1985. The Brits are at war with Russkies in Crimea. Wales has declared itself a socialist republic. The Dodo has been revived in a process of reverse extinction. One thing hasn't changed though: The Brits are madly in love with their books and their literature. So much so that a special department has been set up to protect literary works and to ensure that manuscripts are safe. Enter Thursday. She works for Litera Tec which is a branch of Special Operations that has been set up to ensure that literature remains intact. Everyday conversation among the masses involves long debates on the authenticity of Shakespeare's authorship of the plays or the works of Dickens.
Enter the bad guy: Acheron Hades. He has devised a method of seizing original manuscripts and altering the text so that ALL editions of the text are altered. His first maneouvre is mundane. Removing Mr Quaverly from the text of Martin Chuzzlewit- not a great work of art by any stretch of the imagination. He takes on the establishment when he manages to get into the text and the world of Jane Eyre. Now this is serious stuff. The Brits and the Brontes have a connection which spans decades. What follows is a roller coaster ride interspersing "modern" Britain with the world of Jane Eyre. Nothing is sacrosanct in Fforde's imaginary world. He takes broad swipes at all, including the television press, by inventing the Toad News Network and big business, in the form of the Goliath Corporation. But do not be mistaken. There is an Alice in Wonderland feel to Thursday's adventure. No lofty polemics here. My "laugh out loud" moment came when Thursday (with the help of Mr Rochester) enters the world of Jane Eyre, only to discover some Japanese tourists who have managed to sneak in with her.
What remains once the book is over is a terrific sense of humour coupled with a fertile imagination- a rare occurence in a PDB (post Dan Brown) world. The seriousness (if that is the right word) lingers in the fact that great literature is important and worth fighting for. The only other work of fiction that dwells on this subject (though in a very different manner) is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 - subsequently made into a not-very-good film by Francois Truffaut. If great literature is worth dying for or worth saving then shouldn't more of us be reading it ? That, I think, is the unspoken premise in Fforde's work. I have the next three books and look foward to devouring them.

11 Comments:

Blogger say what? said...

something i do have to ask .. and that to anyone who reads books regularly

how do u guys do it .. i cant fidn time to open a book in months .. let alone the fact that i touched my last pen 10 months ago to open a bank account .. heh ..

9:50 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

tdh: I think the answer to that lies in a separate blog. Watch this space!

2:02 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

from a friend in Oz:

Fforde-that's not a typo." Actually an initial "ff" is a fancy typographer's "F" so it should properly be written either "F" or "ff" but not as "Ff," which, if not a typo is, then, a spelling mistake.

Phew. I can sleep easy tonight :)

2:03 pm  
Blogger assiniboine said...

What a hassle that was -- to have to become a blogger oneself (if only a phantom one) in order to respond with one's own apothegms, aperçus, pensées and obiter dicta.

But I couldn't silently let pass the slight acerbity of the response to my tiny correction as to "Ff" being, yes, either a typo or a spelling error!

Has it been duly noted that today is the anniversary of the death of Samuel Pepys?

5:11 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Mac: Welcome on board! It was well worth the hassle. And why be content with mythical bloggerhood ? I'm sure you have many an interesting tale to tell. Birthday duly noted!

11:21 am  
Blogger s said...

actually, that's my biggest bitch against my parents: lack of introduction to quality literature. i loved reading and everyone knew that, but i was stuck with what my friends at school had or the library had (and it was mostly enid blyton, hardy boys, nancy drew). i used to read 5 books a day, as a child but they were ALL CRAP!

i started reading quality literature in the past few years, but thanks to years of easy reading paperbacks, i find myself unable to get past the first 10 pages of the gay science and pick the shortest of kafka's short stories and proust gathers dust on my shelf...

admittedly, bukowski is my favorite (easy to read, alcoholic, womaniser, total bastard - what's not to love?), while oscar wilde bowls me over (but then, all gay men do).

12:07 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

sarah: I was begining to get worried at your long silence. I had visions of your being sucked into a vortex of something or the other. Don't worry...I only managed the first ten pages of the Gay Science (a misleading title, if ever there was one!) You have inspired me to check out Bukowski. (Sin must have some lying around??)

1:20 pm  
Blogger Sin said...

"The Gay Science"? I'm so confused! Well, I don't have any Bukowski lying around, and I haven't read any that I know of, but he sounds quite a bit like Hunter S. Thompson, and I DO have some of his books. Next trip up in a week or so, and I'll bring you a couple.

4:35 pm  
Blogger livinghigh said...

u-hu!
quality lit? sigh... i read almost anything, to tell de truth. except clive cussler. can't stand him.

and yes, de book sounds very interesting. laugh-aloud moments, too, huh? ;-)

PS: u haven't been to closets in a while, so i will take de time to sulk now. ;-)

6:28 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

livinghigh: life is a closet when its not a cabaret! In any case, i'm trying 2 formulate a response to tdh's query which is a tough one. how come the simplest questions are the toughest ones to answer ?

5:33 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Sin: The Gay Science is confusing...? Well it is. I couldn't get through more than five pages. And that's five less than Sarah. Bravo my Girl!

5:36 am  

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