The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is a quirky novel which takes place in an alternate reality where it is England in the mid '80s, Winston Churchill is unknown (having probably died in his youth), the Crimean war is still being fought, and fans of Francis Bacon walk from door-to-door trying to convert people into accpeting that Shakespeare never wrote those plays really.
This novel aspires to be nothing more than frivolous fun, a summer beach read quickly enjoyed and, once finished, set aside. And yet, it is also a literati's erotica, full of allusions to the classics. You know you're in for a fun ride from the start when an epigraph written by Millon de Floss is quoted. (Get it? Mill on the Floss!)
Further, this novel doesn't fit any mold that I can possibly summarize. Quirky is the only word that seems to cover it all and yet says too little. You have time travel (sci-fi) and novels one can literally (no pun intended) enter (fantasy) plus a love interest with a complication (romance) all focused on Thursday Next, a Special Operative (thriller) and . . . you quickly see how this one book simply doesn't fit the norm. Where does one even look for this in a bookstore? I hope in the literature section because it would be a farce to try to shelve it anywhere else.
The book is quirky but not laugh out loud funny so it fell a little short for me. Not short enough for me to not want to read on. After all, I didn't especially guffaw as I read some of the early Discworld books. I have a feeling that Fforde may have needed to hit his comic stride and I would be surprised if following volumes in the Thursday Next series don't prove to be all the more outrageous and utterly hilarious. (The author also has a series of "nursery crime" novels and there's a children's book soon to be released as well.)
My daughter-in-law recommended this book to me because she enjoyed them so much. I'm glad she did. And I'll probably read the second one sooner rather than later.
Note: There are currently five published books in the series with a sixth to be published soon. I'm tempted to wait until the last of the books is published but I'm already doing that with the Wheel of Time books and I only have so much patience.
PS Note: The last WoT book will be released late 2011 so you can expect me to be rereading the first few books, reading the later books in the series, and reviewing them all beginning in 2012. Yay!