Published: Tantor Audio
Publisher: January 21st 2015
Length: 2 hrs and 22 mins
The Toast is (was?) a hilarious website (RIP) and Mallory Ortberg is one of the funniest people I’ve ever read, so when Audible put her book, Texts From Jane Eyre on sale for 99 cents, I picked it up without a moment’s hesitation.
The basic premise of Texts From Jane Eyre is that your favorite characters from classic literature have the anachronistic ability to communicate by text. Hijinks ensue.
That is a great setup for comedy, and the audiobook does it one better by having those texts performed by a pair of actors who dive into their roles with gusto. I’m a firm believer that comedy oftentimes only comes through when performed, and I think this book is no exception. Texts From Jane Eyre reads like a series of sketches that would kill in front of a receptive (and hopefully literary) audience.
The only problem with Texts From Jane Eyre is that it really does require a deep knowledge of classic literature. I would consider myself fairly well-read, but I felt like I was missing the English lit prerequisites to understand most of these jokes. There were still a few solid laughs throughout even when I wasn’t intimately familiar with the works in question, but most of this collection sailed over my head.
That said, I don’t think this book would necessarily land better if I had read every single novel referenced. Pop culture references don’t automatically make for good comedy. There were also a few conversations here and there that strained at the edges of the conceit; I found myself wondering why characters were apparently standing next to each other and texting. It’s possible the real problem is that this joke only has enough steam to sustain a handful of blog posts and not an entire book.
In any case, my mild disappointment with Texts From Jane Eyre won’t stop me from picking up whatever Mallory Ortberg writes next now that The Toast is winding to a close. If you have a few hours free, Texts From Jane Eyre is worth a listen, but make sure you have Wikipedia handy if you do.