Friday, February 20, 2009

BY THE CHAPTER: The Eyre Affair, a novel with self-contained sequels

It's complicated to end a novel about what would happen if the line between fiction and reality became blurred, so Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair provides not only a conclusion, but also a self-contained sequel to his own novel and the novel we know as Jane Eyre, in the process of telling the story of how it became the novel we know from the novel that Thursday once knew, the one with the "flawed" ending in which Jane goes off with her cousin St. John Rivers.

In the last section of The Eyre Affair, Jane Eyre is kidnapped out of her own novel, and the narrative stops entirely, since it's told in first person. In the literary world of Thursday Next, this is very big news: "within twenty seconds of Jane's kidnapping, the first worried member of the public had noticed strange goings-on around the area of page 107 of their deluxe hidebound edition....within thirty minutes all the lines into the English Museum library were jammed....within two hours every Litera Tec department was besieged by calls....within four hours the president of the Bronte Federation had seen the prime minister." The bad guy, Hades, whose minion has snatched Jane from her novel finds her "dull...with that puritanical streak" and tells her "you should have gone with Rochester when you had the chance instead of wasting yourself with that drip St. John Rivers." As it turns out (because of the machinizations of Jack Schitt on behalf of Goliath), Hades has to go inside Jane Eyre to bargain for what he wants, and Thursday Next follows him.

Rochester and Thursday conspire to trap Hades and keep the non-characters out of Jane's way. Rochester says "this novel is written in the first person. I can get away to speak with you when I am, to all intents and purposes, out of the story. But you must promise me that you will stay out of Jane's way. I will speak to Mrs. Fairfax and Adele privately; they will understand."

In fact, as it turns out, Rochester and Mrs. Fairfax are unexpectedly adaptable to visitors inside the novel; they've been giving tours to Japanese groups out of Osaka for years. Rochester says "I usually do tours of Thornfield for her guests when Jane is up at Gateshead. It carries no risk and is extremely lucrative. Country houses are not cheap to run, Miss Next, even in this century." As if meeting Japanese tourists in the novel isn't stereotype enough, Thursday notices one "holding a large Nikon camera." The tour guide, Mrs. Nakijima, has her own way into the novel. She might be related to the father from Inkheart, as she jumps from her world into the world of the novel without using a Prose Portal: "I think hard, speak the lines and well, here I am." (Inkheart was published three years after The Eyre Affair.)

As they wait to trap Hades, Thursday and Rochester get better acquainted, and he urges her to marry the man she loves but has not been able to forgive, even though Thursday tells him that he is engaged to another woman. "'And what of that?' scoffed Rochester. 'Probably to someone as unsuitable for him as Blanche Ingram is for me!'"

When finally Hades makes his move, he ends up starting the fire which burns down Thornfield. The madwoman stabs him with a pair of silver scissors, giving Thursday the clue she needs to use a silver bullet to dispatch him, and before he dies he throws the madwoman over a parapet, killing her. Rochester is injured trying to help Thursday to safety, after which she travels to the Riverses' house, goes to her window, "and barked: 'Jane, Jane, Jane!' in a hoarse whisper the way that Rochester did. It wasn't a good impersonation but it did the trick."

Jack Schitt, who turns out to have been interested in the Prose Portal because the guns that will win the Crimean war will work only if they're brought out of the land of fiction, gets pushed into what he thinks is a copy of the gun book (later it turns out to be a volume of Edgar Allan Poe poems, but not the original, so Schitt's changes to the verse only show in that volume), and there he is imprisoned. Thursday has single-handedly freed her uncle, saved her world, improved a fictional world, and stopped the Crimean war after 131 years.

When Thursday goes to the wedding of the man she loves (Langdon) to another woman (Daisy), it turns out that the Rochesters have sent the same soliciter who objected to Rochester's wedding to Jane to this wedding, and for the same reason--to interrupt the ceremony with the news that Daisy Mutlar is previously married, and thus can't marry the man Thursday loves. The soliciter brings news of Jane Eyre's happily ever after: "Their first-born is now five; a fine healthy boy, the image of his father. Jane produced a beautiful daughter this spring gone past. They have named her Helen Thursday Rochester."

And Thursday gets her own brief sequel. Two SpecOps officers show up on the penultimate page of this novel, and one of them gives her a piece of advice: "If you ever have a son who wants to be in the ChronoGuard, try and dissuade him." Yes, it is significant that both Thursday and Langdon think he "looks familiar."

In fact, there are a number of actual sequels to The Eyre Affair (listed here), and all of them are fun (most particularly, if you ask me, because in addition to literature, they celebrate the game of croquet). As the sequels continue, the world gets more and more complicated, like one of those really long jokes that is extremely funny if you can remember to tell all the parts in the right order. If you enjoyed reading The Eyre Affair, read the sequels without letting too much time elapse in between each one to keep your enjoyment going.

And if you enjoy such things, tell me what work of fiction you'd most like to read a sequel to, and maybe how you wish the characters would end up. For example, since I was speaking of Cornelia Funke novels, I would so like to see how The Thief Lord solves his first case, and how he compensates for not yet being the age he appears to be. I'd like to see more of why he considers himself fortunate, and how he would either avoid being mistaken for his father or continue to use the resemblance to his advantage.


Marcia said...

Once again you've nailed it perfectly as you've done all week. Thank you for co-hosting and writing such great posts. I've truly enjoyed reading them. I can tell you're a fan of this series.

Joan said...

My writers workshop liked this novel, as a good illustration of plot and suspension of disbelief. I liked it too, although I never trust men who disparage their previous engagements. I think Thursday should have married Boswell, the one sympathetic character (and saved him from Ohio).

Matt said...

I have fun reading these posts. You have convinced me to peruse the book again. I was distracted when I first read the book.

lemming said...

Been thinking about rereading Jane Eyre again for the first time since I used it for comps. (Recovery can take a while sometimes...) It's fascinating to me that readers want a sequel to Pride and Prejudice but they want backstory and additional context for Eyre.

Jeanne said...

Lemming, that IS fascinating, the way you put it. I may have to start thinking about novels in terms of which ones I'd like a sequel for, and which ones I'd rather have more context for.

Jeanne said...

Joan, I'm afraid the name Boswell says it all. A Boswell is forever destined to be a sidekick and biographer, not the man himself.

Jeanne said...

Matt, The Eyre Affair is not a book you can enjoy properly when distracted.