Overflowing with brazen joke thievery and appropriated plot devices, Jasper Fforde's "The Eyre Affair" is a tour de force in its particular genre--science fiction literary detective thriller--as small as that genre may be. Characters pop in and out of works of fiction in a manner patented by Woody Allen (in his short story "The Kugelmass Episode" and the film "The Purple Rose of Cairo"), and a scrappy suburban performance of "Richard III" is an inspired spoof on midnight screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The narrative moves at a breakneck pace. Readers who accept the principle of pastiche that underlies the novel's conception will be rewarded with a clever entertainment that works well both as an adventure yarn and as a witty sendup of contemporary trash media.
Although it champions literary masterpieces, "The Eyre Affair" is far from forbiddingly erudite. If you've forgotten the plot of "Jane Eyre," don't doubt that Next will provide a handy synopsis, and Fforde's literary allusions cease well before the end of the 19th century, thereby omitting any mention of potentially pesky modernist authors. Much of the humor is sophomoric: If reading about characters named Millon de Floss or Landen Parke-Laine or Victor Analogy makes you wince, then "The Eyre Affair" probably won't amuse you.