Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Title: Jane Steele
Author: Lyndsay Faye
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Pages: 416
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"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. 

Jane Steele caught my eye back at the beginning of the year when I saw the cover and read that it was a Jane Eyre retelling! Admittedly, I've never read Jane Eyre, but I did watch the movie way back when and really enjoyed it. After reading this I kind of do want to read the classic though!

I was a little worried about Jane when I started this book. I was worried that this would just be a book about all the terrible things this woman had done. While I'm totally down for reading a book about a badass heroine, I was afraid she wouldn't have much depth beyond her murdering ways. It's also fair to point out here that I didn't read the synopsis... But it's also fair to point out that the beginning of the book is a lot of morally questionable actions and Jane's justifying them. Since the book begins in Jane's childhood, though, there is plenty of time for her to grow as a character.

Jane ended up being a great character! Her actions were usually questionable and she was certainly not a morally upstanding leading lady, but she was sympathetic and I found that she really grew on me as the book progressed. I loved her friendship with Clark and, although I didn't always agree with her actions, I could appreciate why Jane did the things she did to protect her only friend. Possibly even better was her slow burn relationship with Mr. Thornfield.

Mr. Thornfield was an easy character to love! He was mysterious and tortured and all that, but he was also terribly sweet and loyal. Going into Jane Steele and even most of the way into it, I wasn't sure if there would be any romance. Once I realized there would be one, I was worried about how it would play into the story. But by the time it started picking up, I was invested and really ended up liking it! I loved that both Jane and Mr. Thornfield were both imperfect people and were able to embrace each other because of it rather than in spite of it.

All things considered, I'm not sure I felt like this was really a Jane Eyre retelling. Jane talked about Jane Eyre a lot and compared her story to that Jane's. This felt more like a side-by-side comparison than an actual retelling, but it was still immensely enjoyable and made me want to finally pull the original off my shelf! I also saw that this was "a satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies," but honestly, I didn't see it as satire so much as a good story. I don't know, maybe I'm not smart enough to get it. Either way, I enjoyed this book a lot!

Although Jane Steele was a really fun read, I did have a couple issues with it! The story was really quick until Jane returned to Highgate House to work for Mr. Thornfield at which point it slowed way down. It was still interesting, but the pace definitely lagged a bit and I found myself taking a little longer to get through it. I also felt a little bit weird about the lack of consequences for murder in this book, although it's meant to mean that they were justified.

The ending of this story gave me the warm fuzzies and I really felt like it was wrapped up nicely, if a bit quickly. I wasn't sure what I was getting into with this one, but I really did enjoy this gothic retelling and would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy gothic fiction or likes their heroines morally gray.