Friday, 25 March 2016

Review: 'Jane Steele' by Lyndsay Faye

Adaptations of classics can go one of two ways. Either they become a weak copy of the original which leaves the reader slightly bereft, or it manages to take the spirit of the original and dress it up anew. When an adaptation succeeds it doesn't detract from the original but rather add to it, like a kind of cheeky homage. I have always been hesitant about adaptations of my favourite classics because I simply love them too much but I have been opening myself up to them. And I'm extremely glad to have given Jane Steele a chance. Thanks to Headline Review and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 22/03/2016
Publisher: Headline Review

Into the world of Charlotte Bronte steps a young woman with a highly unusual set of skills. 
Reader, I murdered him.
A darkly brilliant Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre from the Edgar-nominated author of the Timothy Wilde series, described as 'amazing' by Gillian Flynn and 'solid-gold entertainment' by Lee Child.
Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.
A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?
There's something delightful about taking a proper and good governess and giving her a knife. As a literature student you learn to treat Classics with a capital C with a certain kind of distant respect, as if it should never be touched, which means that when you see someone taking it for a stroll and changing it it can trigger something of a knee-jerk reaction. But when it is done as deliciously as Faye does in Jane Steele there is no way someone who loves Jane Eyre couldn't at least appreciate her novel. Her plot is incredibly interesting, with little and big twists and an absolutely fascinating insight into the Anglo-Sikh wars, fought in the Punjab in the 1840s. Faye rightly recognised the presence of the neo-colonial in Mr. Rochester's past and translated it into Mr. Thornfield's past and presence. Faye's Sikh characters are some of the most interesting characters in Jane Steele and I left the book wanting to learn more about them.

Jane Steele has a very interesting structure. Just like Jane Eyre it is written in retrospect, which unfortunately removes some of the tension of Faye's action-packed plot. However, Faye's writing makes up for that completely. Faye also starts each chapter with a quote from Jane Eyre which, for everyone who knows the book well, gives little clues as to what might happen next. The two Janes are irrevocably tied up by Faye, with her own heroine actively engaging with Bronte's literary one at every step. Faye's Jane Steele set out to write her story after reading Jane Eyre and the similarities and differences between the two continuously high-lighted. Since Jane Steele's voice is so strong, poor Jane Eyre sometimes almost comes away the lesser. However what does become clear is that Bronte's novel was written for quite a different purpose than Faye's. Charlotte Bronte was trying to explore the female psyche and its vastly unexplored depths. Faye doesn't necessarily have the same lofty ambitions and yet her Jane Steele is almost more fun.

As mentioned above, Faye's writing is absolutely what makes this novel. Jane Steele's voice is sarcastic, biting and emotional, all at the same time. She is definitely the best thing about the novel, intriguing and easy to empathise with. The highest praise also needs to go to Faye for how she deals with certain aspects of Jane Steele's childhood concerning her cousin, something that shows her as very aware of the impression certain things might make on her readers. Faye describes Jane Steele's descent into murder very nicely, balancing between being explicit and describing Jane's emotional state. The combination between the two is what makes for some very gripping passages. There is also a naturalness to the way in which Faye's characters speak, both to each other and, in Jane's case, to the reader. Too often dialogue feels to forced because the author wants to reveal too much through speech, but in Jane Steele this is not the case.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Overall I loved reading Jane Steele, it got me straight back to loving Jane Eyre and cheering for Jane and Mr. Thornfield. Jane Steele has a delightful cast of characters, each of which will endear itself to the reader within pages. I'd recommend it, of course, to fans of Jene Eyre but also in general to fans of crime fiction and even historical fiction.

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