Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
I read several rave reviews of Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele, and while I was a bit nervous about the serial killer angle (will it be like Sweeney Todd? I wondered), I was more than happy to give it a shot. Jane Eyre was a novel I looooooved in high school and then, as an adult, realized that Mr. Rochester is a very bad man. A very bad man indeed.
[Shhhh, not now, Daniel. We’ll talk about you later.]
Anyway, I read Patricia Park’s most excellent Korean-American adaptation, Re Jane, for CBR7 and was curious to see what Steele could come up with. I’ll warn you, friends: my review is not as glowing as other CBR friends’ reviews.
Jane Steele, like Jane Eyre, is an unusual child living with her hateful aunt and spiteful cousin at Highgate House. Yet her history begins not with verbal protestations but with a killing. Jane confesses at the beginning, “ Reader, I murdered him,” a delicious twist on the injunction to the reader at the end of Jane Eyre. Such a very promising beginning. Jane’s journeys take her to a school with a disgusting and abusive headmaster, the underbelly of London, and then to back to Highgate House, where she acts as governess to Charles Thornfield’s ward and really wants to see if she has any inheritance through the estate. But of course, the heart is a fickle beast, and she wonders how long she can keep her past at bay, while searching for Thornfield’s mystery, as well.
I really liked that Steele delved into the Anglo-Sikh conflicts, since I knew relatively little about them. That was a unique twist on the story for me, and nicely echoes Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, as far as unmaking the Imperial narrative tied up in Jane Eyre is concerned.
Now, Readers. What I didn’t like: just about everything else. I really was hoping, that with such a delicious introduction, we would be getting a wickedly unrepentant Jane who was skillful and sly, with murders and mayhem galore. I was anticipating gruesome murders of Mrs. Reed, John, Georgiana, and Eliza, with a grand finale of Bertha and Jane teaming up to take out Rochester, and then run off to the Caribbean and sip mimosas to high-five over the very bad man they had killed. Alas. There is much emotion and uncertainty and killing in self-defense which is completely justified. Seriously, if you’re going to market Jane Steele as a serial killer, then maker her a serial killer.
As I said in my Goodreads review, I was hoping for American Psycho meets Charles Dickens at his most devilish, and I instead got Charlotte Bronte meets Ann Radcliffe. I’m deeply crushed that this book turned out so very differently than I had anticipated.
If you like romance, history, and Jane Eyre, you will probably really like this book. Since I am all about literary fiction, satire, and darkish comedy, Jane Steele did not fit my particular tastes or expectations. Your own mileage may vary.