25 May 2016
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and The Wall Street Journal called “thrilling.”
“Young Jane Steele’s favorite book, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, mirrors her life both too little and too much…In an arresting tale of dark humor and sometimes gory imagination, Faye has produced a heroine worthy of the gothic literature canon but reminiscent of detective fiction.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review
“Reader, I murdered him.”
A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.
The first time Jane Steele was pitched to me, I was told it was Jane Eyre as a serial killer. So I passed. However, after reading several other reviews it's clear JE is the inspiration for the story. The book Jane Eyre has just been published and it just so happens to be Jane Steele's favorite book with strange parallels to her life. She's an orphan, raised by a dreadful aunt, sent to a wretched school, and eventually becomes a governess to a mysterious man with a charming young ward.
Here the similarities end.
Jane Steele is a frank, no-nonsense young woman who believes herself permanently beyond rehabilitation after she commits a series of murders. All in the name of self-defense or in defense of another woman - she doesn't murder in cold blood - but given Victorian sensibilities taking a life seems fairly unforgiveable. She supports herself by writing "gallows confessions" and surrounds herself with the colorful people around the theatre district. Jane is smart and resourceful and such a great character.
Faye goes further by providing Jane with an equally memorable cast of characters. Charles Thornfield, who is mentally scarred by what he has seen in the Sikh Wars; Sardar Singh, who provides Jane with an understanding of Sikh culture and history and a great deal so wisdom; Sahjara, Thornfield's ward who is an adorable, cheeky, and bright little girl; and Becky Clarke, the girl Jane rescues when escaping from their horrible school and who turns out to be hiding quite a surprise. Faye's descriptions of the wretched boarding school and 1840s London cause the settings to become characters in their own right.
I listened to this on audio on the way to/from BEA - an excellent production.
(Edit: There was a bit more here where I said this was a really good book to read but apparently I erased them? Dunno. But I thought this was really fun and a good way to re-tell a story but do your own thing. Plus, it's more diverse than most Victorian literature.)