“Some memoirs explain social hierarchies by means of illustrative anecdotes, but mine is about homicide, not ladies’ schools.” Lyndsay Faye, JANE STEELE
“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.
I’m on a Brontë roll: two books featuring Bronte classics that are unique, absorbing, and compulsively, obsessively readable. Last week I featured THE MADWOMAN UPSTAIRS; this week: JANE STEELE.
And Steele she is.
This Jane is no creature of “air”; she has the heart and courage of a lion, a penchant for brutal justice, and enough vulnerability of person and circumstance to make her extremely likable. The characters and plot from JANE EYRE are magnificently reimagined in JANE STEELE in diverse and colorful ways, and this time our protagonist and the object of her affection are true heroes, each deserving of good fortune and good ends.
JANE STEELE is faithful to JANE EYRE in some ways, but makes a new creation of it in others. Blood is shed, but not (overly) grotesquely so. Romance is explored, but never delves into the saccharine. When the reader thinks she knows the story; she does not.
In short, fans of historical suspense, strong heroines, and yes, JANE EYRE, will find much to love about JANE STEELE. The novel is deserving of all the buzz it has received, and I give it my highest recommendation.
Are you a fan of JANE EYRE, or do you prefer the darker backstory imagined in WIDE SARGASSO SEA? Either way, read JANE STEELE. I’d love to hear what you think.