Jane Steele: A Novel | Author: Lyndsay Faye | Rating: 9.5/11 |
This seems to be the year for beloved classics to undergo an overhaul. However, it’s unfortunate that not all the remodels are anywhere near as fun as this one. Clever, flamboyant and nail-bitingly over-the-top, Lyndsay Faye’s latest novel is a bold re-imagining of Charlotte Brontë’s classic, Jane Eyre. This time, though, the title heroine is an audacious serial killer, determined to carve out a place for herself in the world – and not in the way that society ever intended.
After her mother’s suicide leaves her orphaned and disenfranchised, Jane’s spiteful aunt sends her away to a boarding school in London. She struggles for a number of years beneath the vicious and sadistic rule of the headmaster, until a blackmail scheme forces her to make a bloody bid for freedom. Jane flees to London and scratches out a modest living writing the macabre ‘last confessions’ of the recently hanged, until a notice in the paper changes the course of her fate once again: her aunt has died, leaving her family estate in the hands of a stranger named Mr. Charles Thornfield. And Mr. Thornfield is looking for a governess for his nine-year-old ward, Sahjara. Jane takes the job with the intent of learning the truth about her family history and her inheritance, but of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. While unraveling the secrets of her own shadowed history, she discovers that her new, enigmatic employer has a dark past of his own. The two are drawn inexorably together, both afraid that the skeletons in their closets will at any moment find a way to tear them apart.
Knowledge of Jane Eyre is helpful, but ultimately unnecessary; Faye’s Jane Steele shines all on her own, standing well clear of and beyond her literary predecessor’s shadow. The novel is charmingly witty and gorgeously detailed, all while being playfully tongue-in-cheek about its own eccentricities. The real reason it gets away with being so over-the-top, however, is because of its wonderfully written cast of characters. Faye has a remarkable knack for avoiding the most common and most disappointing pitfall in historical fiction: the character stereotype. Every single character in this book, from the main to the mainly incidental, has their own distinct personality and voice. Even while embarking upon some truly ridiculous exploits, they continue to be real and relatable, and, even more than that, immediately likeable. The plot ends the way we all knew it was going to, winding down to its inevitable and satisfying conclusion, but don’t be surprised if you’re disappointed. After spending over four hundred pages with this delightful cast, it isn’t easy to let Jane, Charles, Sardor and Sahjara go.
Whether you enjoy romance, adventure, mystery or humor, Jane Steele has something for you. Feminist but not anachronistic, flirtatious but not vapid, Faye’s latest novel is a true delight for both new and long-time fans. Don’t wait around for the upcoming film; missing out on Faye’s gorgeous prose would be a shame indeed.