That's basically this book's tagline. Jasper Fforde paints an alternate contemporary timeline where the arts and literature shake the pop culture's mind-set. You don't swoon over the Josh Groban or become a goth. Instead, you are a shameless sonnet lover or a proponent of Bacon as the true writer of Shakespeare. England and Russia are at war in Crimea. The French Revolution's still on. There are chronological displacements, vampires, werewolves, Q-like scientists as well as deviously-named madmen.
Anyway, The Eyre Affair chronicles literatec Thursday Next's attempts to capture the third most wanted man in the world: Acheron Hades. Hades is using a prose portal to kidnap literary characters from the pages of their book. If he snatches the character from the original manuscript, then he changes the entire work as we know it! So in grabbing Jane Eyre, he absolutely destroys the novel! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
The things I liked:
1) Rocky-Horror Show-esque Shakespearean performances. How cool would that really be? 2) When the whole Jane Eyre kidnapping thing FINALLY went down. But it took long enough. 3) In Fforde's alternate timeline, Jane Eyre marries St. John Rivers. So I delightedly realized half way through the book that Fforde was going to have his characters somehow burn down Thornfield Hall, maim Rochester, kill Bertha Mason and get Jane married to the right man. 4) Fforde's funny time-traveling solution to the whole debate of whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays.
Things I was meh over: 1) If Jane Eyre marries Rivers in the original Fforde version, I don't understand how the book would become a classic. I mean, it would still be well written, but Fforde also implies that outsiders aside from Bronte have tampered with the text. So this also implies Charlotte Bronte wasn't as great a writer. I was insulted for her. 2) Jane isn't very interesting and acts like a damsel, which is not Janian at all. Also, she vocally loves Rochester when we meet her at a point in the story where she doesn't yet. If as Fforde says, the characters experience everything in real time again and again, then she wouldn't be soooo damselly. 3) The book is the Eyre Affair, but she's actually quite marginal to the plot. 4) When Thursday Next, our heroine, starts tampering with the plot, Fforde rushes through it. Also, lame solution with Thursday calling, "Jane! Jane! Jane!"
I know all my complaints are about the portrayal of Bronte's classic. And this probably means that if I lived in that universe, I would be holding a candlelight vigil for the same return of Bronte's heroine. But here's the thing: Fforde had a very big writing dilemma to work around. He doesn't touch the main plot until more than 2/3 through the book, when Jane gets kidnapped. Then he needs to recap the plot of Bronte's book to get readers who have never read it up to speed. Then he basically is plot summarizing Bronte's novel with some interruptions by his own characters with their wacky Harry Potter hijinks. When I hit the actual Eyre stuff, I started skimming, skipping and then just getting to the end.
As to the beginning stuff, it was a fun read, but not particularly engrossing. I would have preferred some more explanations like why books and arts are so important? What's up with Thursday's Dad? A peek into the Milton convention! More Richard III Rocky Horror-esque reenactments. Fforde would also touch on more adult themes: PTSD, lost love, undead-edness, but like Harry Potter, he never looses his light tone. He plays it safe.
And that's the thing, the Eyre Affair is really safe. Acheron Hades is a fun villain though. He was villainous in that he didn't really care how he affected things. But even Acheron gets shoved into a safe end for a typical villain.