Monday, March 7, 2016
Reader, I Murdered Him......
March 22, 2016
G. P. Putnam's Sons
I fell in love with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre when I first read it at about the age of twelve. I loved the language, the masterful portrayal of Jane's inner self and the admittedly not very politically correct romance with Mr. Rochester. Yes, Mr. Rochester was a manipulative so and so, firmly rooted in 19th-century masculinity, but Jane refused to violate her own principles under the influence of his wiles. I confess to many re-readings of the novel over the years along with multiple screen adaptations. I am somewhat allergic to "re-imaginings" of classic novels. Had this been, say, Jane Eyre with Zombies rather than Jane Eyre, serial murderer, I would have run far and fast. I am also a great admirer of Lyndsay Faye's work, from her Sherlockian novel, Dust and Shadows, through her recent historical Timothy Wilde Trilogy, set in Civil War-era New York. If anyone could pull this off, Lyndsay Faye could, and I was not disappointed.
Jane Steele lives in the countryside at Highgate Hall with her French mother, both grudgingly sheltered by her Aunt, Patience Barbary. Jane's favorite novel is Jane Eyre, and her life has some obvious parallels. When Jane's mother dies and Jane commits her first murder, she asks to be sent off to school, unlike the Jane of the novel. Lowan Bridge School equals, perhaps surpasses the brutality of Lowood School, but Jane makes a good friend in a younger girl, Clarke, and gets a good education at least. The situation calls for more murder to save Clark's life, and the two girls run off to London. London is as filthy and magnificent as Dickens ever described. Jane supports herself and Clarke by writing gallows ballads and last confessions of condemned prisoners for scandal papers hawked in the streets. Along the way, she and Clarke part company, and Jane is called to her "accidental avenger" role several times. Jane was always told by her mother that she was the rightful heir to Highgate, so when she sees an advertisement for a governess by the new owner, Charles Thornfield, she must apply for the position. Highgate Hall is much changed. Charles Thornfield is a veteran of the East Indian Company's wars with the Sikh Empire and all the servants are Sikhs. Her pupil is a half-caste girl with a horse obsession, Sahjara. Jane feels an immediate attraction to Charles Thornfield, but there are mysteries at Highgate Hall- why is no one allowed in the cellar for instance? And how can Jane ever let Thornfield know about her past?
Jane Steele is billed as a "satirical romance" and it is all of that. It is very funny, especially the gallows ballads, and the wonderful Dickensian names: Vesalius Munt, Sam Quillfeather, and Mr. Grizzlehurst being just some examples. It is also a window into the Sikh way of life and the disastrous history of East Indian Company machinations. I loved Jane Steele from beginning to end and was quite as well satisfied with the ending as with the original.
Thanks to the Penguin First to Read program for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.