On his own biography page, Fforde describes his own style as “the no-mans-land somewhere between the warring factions of Literary and Absurd.” He touts his Ffiesta as a celebration of the absurd, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asserts that The Eyre Affair is “two parts fantasy, two parts absurdity, and one part mystery.”
But according to the University of Toronto English library, absurdist fiction conveys “an attitude which underlines the isolation and alienation that human beings experience, having been thrown into as a godless universe; absurdism denies the existence of universal truth or value.” In other words, it’s nihilism cut with a healthy dose of nonsense.
Genetically reconstructed dodos, Prose Portals, and Shakespearian terrorists are indeed “absurd” elements by the most pedestrian definition of the word, but in terms of genre, they fit rather neatly into science fiction or fantasy.
The Eyre Affair may be wacky, but one doesn’t get the sense that the world Thursday lives in is void of truth, or that her life is meaningless. The biggest indicator of this is the happy ending. She catches the criminal, fixes the book’s plot, and wins back her own love interest in one fell swoop. And she seems satisfied with the outcome: “’I left something behind in the Crimea,’” I murmured, “’but I think I’ve found it again’” (356).
One element that works in favor of absurdism is time travel. Colonel Next’s ability to go back in time and change the past (which in turn changes the future) results in the ultimate meaninglessness of the present. Individuals lack agency and can never know if their concept of truth is in the process of being altered by a Chronoguard agent.
For example, Thursday’s schema of what a banana is changes the instant her father plants bananas in the past. Click here for an in-depth analysis of the relationship between bananas, time travel and absurdism.
Another aspect that does hint at genuine absurdity is the theme of religion. Thursday’s world is one in which religion as we know it doesn’t play a huge role, perhaps because the number of faiths has been whittled down to one, the GSD, or Global Standard Deity. When speaking with her brother, a member of the GSD clergy, she asks whether his practice allows for verbal put-downs like “fat arse.” He replies, “Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t...That’s the beauty of the Global Standard Deity---it’s whatever you want it to be” (196).
This amalgamation of religion could be interpreted as absurdist if one sees this as a futile attempt at compromise that actually symbolizes the death of religion and God rather than a harmonious watering-down. Indeed, old institutions are trivialized in names like the Church of Our Blessed Lady of Lobsters (351), lending to a more absurdist reading.
However, GSD is the ultimate universalization of religion, which is in conflict with the absurdist denial of universal truth.
War is another theme that lends itself to absurd treatment. Indeed, several popular war novels, like Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five, have been put into the absurdist genre by literary critics. The Eyre Affair gets absurdist points right away just because it’s not even about a real war. While the Crimean war did happen, the Crimean war of Thursday’s world is extended by a century and attributed to much different factors.
Absurdism also comes out in the way the war is portrayed in the media of Thursday’s universe. For example, Toad News gives equal weight to stories on the “incalculable waste of human life and resources” in the Crimea as it gives to stories on the picketing of cheese shops.
And even when the war ends, its resolution is summed up in three measly sentences: “Within four hours a ceasefire had been called for the first time in 131 years. Within four weeks the politicians were around the table in Budapest. Within four months ever single English soldier was out the peninsula” (364). A war that took a major toll on thousands of soldiers’ mental health is solved with ease, giving the events an air of inconsequence.