Monday, May 29, 2006

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

What intrigues me about the Nextian world Jasper Fforde has created, is how seriously books are taken in The Eyre Affair. The fact that Thursday is a LiteraTec (a Literary Detective) – someone who deals with crimes against literature – whether that’s the theft of original manuscripts such as Martin Chuzzlewit or Jane Eyre; the sale of “bootleg” versions of the verses of Poe, Keats and Byron; or unauthorised performances of plays. Then there are the Henry Fielding fanatics who swap bubble-gum cards of Fielding’s characters, much as people in our world swap bubble-gum cards of baseball players. There are also the amazing Will-Speak machines (properly known as the Shakespeare Soliloquy Vending Automatons) into which one inserts a coin and then listens to a brief Shakespearean soliloquy (depending on whether the machine offers Hamlet or Richard III, for example). There is an annual John Milton Conference, at which many of the attendees are named John Milton; changing one’s name to that of a favourite author seems fairly common – Thursday encounters a hotel receptionist named Liz Barrett-Browning, for example, and overhears a conversation in which a John Milton is reporting being mugged by a Percy Shelley. All the hotel rooms have an obligatory copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, in addition to various religious works. Just as we have Jehovah’s Witnesses going door-to-door, trying to persuade us to sign up, so the Nextian world has people who go door-to-door, trying to persuade people that William Shakespeare wasn’t the true author of his plays. Then again, Thursday attends a performance of Richard III that is performed by the audience; those who wish to perform arrive at the theatre in costume, and audience participation is expected (half the audience at the performance that Thursday attends, ends up on stage for the Battle of Bosworth).There is the Verse Metre Analyser, a room-sized machine reminiscent of the early computers, which “breaks down any prose or poem into its components – words, punctuation, grammar, and so forth – then compares that literary signature with a specimen of the target writer in its own memory.” (Chapter 12, The Eyre Affair) Apparently it’s 89% accurate and used to find forged copies of literary texts.

On top of this, is the concept that Nextian characters and literary characters can occasionally enter or leave a literary work, and their presence can affect the narrative; thus Thursday changes the plot of Jane Eyre so that it no longer ends as it does in the Nextian universe with Jane going to India as St John Rivers’ assistance, but instead she marries Mr Rochester (something that is contrived by Thursday).

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