I just finished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, a book I discovered later than I'd planned due to the fact that I thought his name was either a typo or something made up. Apologies to Mr. Fforde.
I loved this book. I admit, when I heard the premise for the book, my first thought was that it would be either eye-rollingly ridiculous or too clever for the average reader. It may have been the latter, but I loved it. (I consider myself an average reader, but my friends and family tend to disagree.)
I am not a huge fan of alternate histories. While I believe they are good as exercises in stretching our historical perspectives and cultural imaginations, many I've read take themselves too seriously. There is little serious about The Eyre Affair.
The setting is England in 1985. Time travel is routine, and the French have revised much of history. Literature is serious business. The heroine is Thursday Next, a Special Operative in Literary Detection (a LiteraTec) who is chasing an evil criminal, Acheron Hades, who's just stolen the original manuscript of Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit. He has also kidnapped the inventor of a device - the Prose Portal - that allows people to cross into the literary world. After Hades removes and kills a minor character in Chuzzlewit (only remembered thereafter by people who've read the book before 1985), he acquires the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps the Jane.
I had a delightful time reading this book. It did, occasionally, get a bit caught up in being clever and scholarly, but the pace and wit were fast and addictive. The book is sprinkled with literary references throughout, but being well-read isn't necessarily required to enjoy the book. I loved the hilarious names (a corporate bigwig named Jack Schitt...!) and not-so-subtle jabs at literature. When a zealous Baconian knocks on the door to preach about dubious Shakespearean authorship and distribute literature (they heckle performances of Hamlet, too), I knew this was my kind of book.
After I finish the new Harry Potter book (yes, yes... I have kids and I happen to like the books), I plan to start in on Lost in a Good Book, the next Thursday Next novel. Heh.