I picked up this book soon after it came out and could not get past page 60 or so. I think it had to do with my expectations when I heard what this book was about: I was expecting the novel to deal with characters interfering with plots of classical novels (which it does), but what I hadn’t expected was such a wacky story. Not only does this book deal with characters from the “real” world interfering with works of fiction, but their world is not our world but an alternate world. In short, I hadn’t recognized the book for what it is: chiefly a science-fiction novel.

Having picked up this book for the second time, I was better prepared for it, and this time I managed to finish it. To a certain degree, I can even say that I enjoyed it. The story is the following:

In an England at war with the Russian Empire over Crimea, Thursday Next, the main female protagonist, war veteran, is a SpecOps in literary detection. She deals with problems concerning authenticity, robberies of first editions and such. In Thursday’s world, literature is more valued than in our world: automatons recite Shakespeare’s plays in train stations and people regularly go to see Richard III, in which they are in turn actors and public, a public participating like in a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. One day, when the original manuscript from Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit disappears, everything is about to change. Acheron Hades, a villain in the vein of Rowling’s Voldemort, has a devilish plan involving drastic changes in the narrative of literary masterpieces. His plan involves Mycroft Next, Thursday’s uncle, and his revolutionary inventions. It will be further complicated by the hidden agenda of a large corporation named Goliath. For Thursday, this will be the biggest investigation of her life, not only because she will find herself in dangerous situations, some involving time travel, an activity usually allowed only to ChronoGuards (SpecOps-12), but also because the story line of her favorite novel, Jane Eyre (a Jane Eyre with a different ending than the one we know), will be threatened…

As I said, if you read this book, don’t expect any logic, you have to go along with the story, this is the only way you will appreciate it. Even if I expected more about Jane Eyre (which I eventually got), and less about time travel (which I am usually extremely fond of, as well as alternate universes), crazy inventions or wacky characters, I ended up liking the story. I thought it could easily have done without the vampires and werewolves for instance, but I found some details like the presence of the Japanese tourist in Thornfield Hall delightful. Some of the humor and satire was fun, the rest just average…

I also liked how Fforde, who obviously knows Jane Eyre pretty well, explained the elements that must have puzzled many Bronte’s critics, the ones that have a supernatural tone in the novel as we know it. I think he even should have gone further down this path. What I have to reproach this novel aside from going in too many directions is the lack of depth of the two-dimensional characters and the fact that Fforde has no idea what it is to write as a first-person female narrator: never have I seen so masculine a woman as Thursday Next! (I understand that Thursday is no Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet but still…)

I don’t know if I will be tempted to read the sequels (Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots) or not…

Rating: 3/5