Having taught Jane Eyre for several years, I found the premise of a serial killing Jane quite amusing. I have often wanted to knock off a few characters myself, so it sounded like a good time. It really was. While this book does maintain some of the bones of the original Gothic romance, all of the stupid sentimentality and dithering heroine mess are pushed aside. Of course, that means some of the major themes that made Jane Eyre a book of its time are missing as well, but this is, by far, a more satisfying read for a modern sensibility. While this isn’t a YA read, so many YA readers felt tortured by the classic, I felt compelled to pass this on.
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.
At first, I thought this would be a dark mirror image of the classic tale, and that can be boring. The events paralleled but with some twists. Eventually, though, this work became its own, and I thought the last half was a spectacular adventure/mystery. On top of that, this story has a much more exotic and engaging love interest. (Sorry, Rochester, but you kind of always gave me the creeps anyway). This is really what got my stamp of approval. Without killing the suspense or even the angst, the author manages to create a very compelling , somewhat bloodthirsty and thoroughly sigh worthy love story.
I thought this was a great romp through sacred literary fields, but there were some things that might keep you from having as much fun as I did. First, the language is elevated and that means you have to think a little bit. The same issue stumps many would-be readers of Jane Eyre, so I’m just putting it out there. Second, there is a decidedly dark sensuality in this read. Charlotte Bronte definitely didn’t use some of these words and images, so prepare yourself for some more modern expressions of sexuality. Somehow these things seem so much more scandalous and wicked when placed in this context, so I thought it was a little shocking, but nothing I couldn’t handle. If you are my grandmother and believe that we are all ruining the world with the acknowledgement that people have fantasies and sex, you probably can’t handle it.
Overall, I enjoyed this read enough to finish it in a day. I think that it would make a nice parallel text and an interesting study in theme for a college class, but I’m not sure it would be as well received by my high school readers. I would definitely consider it for a book club read because there are lots of topics for discussion. I do think you can enjoy this book without having studied Jane Eyre, but watching the movie (the one with Michael Fassbender, of course) might help you make a few important connections and increase your appreciation for its rather irreverent twists.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.