In this alternate universe, literature and art are everything. There are gang wars between followers of surrealism and impressionism, and where Baconians fight an endless war to prove Shakespeare never wrote a letter, let alone some of the greatest plays the world of literature has ever seen.
Also, speaking of wars, the Crimean War continues into its 131st year -even though over that time, maybe only 8 or 9 was any actual battle going. Thursday’s brother Anton died during one of those years, which colors her relationship with an old boyfriend who was with her brother when he died, and who sort of sold him out during an inquiry.
And time-travelers routinely play havoc with history, one who includes Thursday's father.
Anyways, a former tutor of Thursday, one Acheron Hades, has become a monstrous super-villain, who would not be out of place with James Bond’s notorious Ernst Blofeld or Doctor Who’s The Master. So Hades has stolen the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, and in this universe, they can alter books by adding new story elements or taking characters out of the book.
But when Hades learns that Thursday’s uncle has created a Prose Portal, a device similar (I guess) to Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck, the larger-than-life villain sets his sights on the heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Erye.
While marketed as mainstream literature, Fforde’s novel is more sci fi/fantasy along the lines of Douglas Adams, with a lot of Monty Python added to keep the comedy from getting too sophisticated. The Eyre Affair is chock-full of literary references and in-jokes, though I assume even though reading Jane Eyre is not required, it might be useful to have read it.
In the end, though, its an entertaining romp, even if its not original. Fforde’s prose is sparse, and this does, at times, cause a confusion when trying to keep the large cast of characters in order, but its smart comedy for people who love literature, but not too deep that fans of popular fiction would turned off by it.