on Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde The Eyre Affair cover

‘Emma Hamilton?’

My mother popped her head around the door from the kitchen.

‘You know her?’ she asked in a aggrieved tone.

‘Not personally. I think she died in the mid-nineteenth century.’

My mother narrowed her eyes.

‘That old ruse.’

You will know from my Welcome page that I am currently at Western Sydney University training to be a high school English and Music teacher.

For anyone in my position, a short cogitation on a future in front of a classroom of shiny-faced adolescents with nothing but their teacher’s emotional well-being and self-esteem both in mind and at the forefront of everything they attempt to do, and do not hesitate to say, can provide some pause. And last night, when there was nothing left on telly, Facebook, Twitter, the ABC News website or The Guardian online, I got to thinking:

Perhaps I should read a few HSC books.

So I go to the NSW Board of Studies website, find the prescribed texts for HSC English for the years 2015-2020 and it turns out that the list is…voluminous.

If I start reading tonight I should finish by 2021.

So what do I do about this egregious lack of understanding? How do I respond to this gaping cavern of unread literature that exists, right now, in the North Face of my mind? I walk to the bookshelf and pick out something I’ve read half a dozen times already.

One of my favourite silly books is Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. I first went looking for this novel in the bookshops after reading a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, one particular sentence of which captured my attention: “a silly book for smart people”. It was a marketing ploy. But it worked. Why, I said, I am a smart person! I like to think I am! Perhaps I could cease this incessant rereading of nineteenth century English literature and actually try something new.

Above is a picture of my battered old Jasper Fforde novel, about as travel-weary as I am on certain days. It has been on bookshelves in the tropics and bookshelves in the desert. Once it was in a terrifying earthquake and it might tell you about that sometime if it is feeling in a safe place.

‘Well, it’s a bit of a co-incidence, wouldn’t you say?’

‘What is?’

‘Nelson and Wellington, two great English national heroes both being shot early on during their most important and decisive battles.’

‘What are you suggesting?’

‘That French revisionists might be involved.’

‘But it didn’t affect the outcome of either battle,’ I asserted. ‘We still won on both occasions!’

‘I never said they were any good at it.’

The Eyre Affair is a prescribed text for English Extension 1, in the elective ‘Genre: Comedy’, described below in terms that provide a rich vein of essay questions which practically mine themselves. Some of them even lay down on the side of the road waiting to be picked up like nuggets of…really easy (to set) essay questions:

The humour generated by comedy can be verbal, visual or physical. Comic texts often celebrate the resilience of human beings and their capacity to triumph over adversity. They construct a world in which conflict can be resolved through laughter and disunity can give way to harmony and a ‘happy ending’. Through comic treatment, human mistakes or weaknesses may be exposed for effect. The effectiveness of comedy and its humour often depends on the cultural context and values of the audience.

The more books you’ve read, the funnier The Eyre Affair will be. It’s been around for a while, I know. But maybe it’s time to put down that Jane Austen novel and have a post-modern giggle.


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