This week’s BotW is Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele, which is billed as a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre, but is a bit more loosely related to Bronte’s book than that might suggest. I heard a lot of buzz about this before it’s release – Deanna Raybourn wrote about it in her newsletter and some of the book podcasts I listen to talked about it too, so when I spotted it on NetGalley I was already intrigued enough to request it.
Jane Steele’s favourite book is – and her life has some parallels with Charlotte Bronte’s heroine – she’s orphaned, she’s sent to boarding school, she becomes a governess and is attracted to her employer. But there’s a key difference – Ms Steele has a bit of a murderous streak. This Jane has a few more trials in her life than Bronte’s – but she’s not going to take them lying down.
Despite her killings, Jane is an attractive and appealing heroine with reasons (mostly) for acting as she does. I was concerned before I read this and early on in the book that I wouldn’t be able to get past the fact that she was killing people, but it really wasn’t an issue. Jane’s actions are (mostly) quite understandable – and not without consequences for her. She’s fairly self-aware – although the reader suspects she’s not as well informed about some things as she thinks she is – and chafes at the restrictions and limitations places on her by Victorian society. She’s smarter than most of the men around her during the first half of the book and it’s interesting and entertaining watching her work out how she can extricate herself from the situations she is forced into.
Considering I read Jane Eyre for the one and only time when I was about 9 and – whisper it quietly – have never read Wuthering Heights*, I seem to have read a lot (proportionally) with Bronte re-tellings or influenced books (and I have The Madwoman Upstairs sitting on the to-read pile so it’s not over yet!). And while I didn’t love this the way I love Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair** it is really good fun. I liked the portion of the book before Jane arrives back at Thornfield the best – possibly because it’s quite hard to keep up the fast-paced, wise-cracking action when you introduce a love interest and try to work out a resolution where the problem of your heroine being a murderess isn’t an issue!
Not quite as brilliant as you expect from the first 50 pages, but nonetheless pretty darn good, Jane Steele is out in the UK in what I suspect from the price is the giant airport sized paperback and in the US in hardback. A cheaper (smaller?) paperback edition is due in the UK in November Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Kindle or Kobo.
* I do know what happens though.
** But Thursday Next is a very high bar and has a lot more going on than just Jane Eyre.