Penguin Group/Putnam, March 22, 2016.
Jane Steele is inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre – it is a retelling of the original in which Jane still experiences abuse, but instead of submitting to her role, she turns vigilante. This new Jane is an avid reader of Bronte’s novel, and while she feels an affinity with Jane Eyre, she is much stronger, both physically and mentally. While the original Jane is light and ethereal like her name, the new Jane is made of stronger stuff, as her name suggests. In a twist on Jane Eyre’s famous line, Jane Steele tells us without hesitation, “Reader, I murdered him.”
Successfully written in a gothic style, with more than a hint of humour and charm, Faye’s novel enhances the experience of Jane Eyre, while still standing on its own. Whether you are a huge fan of Bronte’s novel (like me) or have never read it, there is so much to enjoy about Jane Steele. Like her predecessor, Jane Steele is treated poorly by her aunt and then her schoolmaster, but she doesn’t take it quietly. She defends herself and her loved ones – and leaves a trail of dead bodies behind her. Even Jane believes she is wicked, but somehow as a reader we cannot help but sympathize with her actions.
As Jane struggles to survive the underworld of London’s dark alleys, she continues to commit crimes to protect herself and others. Although her violent acts would be condemned in reality, I challenge you as a reader not to cheer her on as you speed through this novel. Ironically, Jane makes a living during her time on London’s streets by writing about the crimes of others in a prison broadsheet, each story more gruesome than the last. Meanwhile, Jane struggles with her own actions, although they seem increasingly inevitable as we become immersed in her world.
In the second half of the novel, Jane Steele answers an ad for a job as governess, bringing her story ever more in line with that of Jane Eyre. However, instead of finding Rochester’s madwoman in the attic, Jane discovers an exotic household with a mystery in the cellar – and a secret that has travelled with the home’s inhabitants from the distant world of India. Many of the names of people and places are echoes of those in Jane Eyre, little clues placed in the novel for fans of the original.
Jane Steele is written as a confession – Jane is willing to give up all of her crimes, in exchange for a peaceful life and the acceptance of those she loves. There is romance, but it is satirical – Jane doesn’t need a Mr. Rochester to take care of her, but it is nice to have companionship, which she finds in her own Mr. Thornfield. This independence gives the novel a feminist slant, and Jane’s modern sensibilities are all the more satisfying when she takes on challenges and makes her own happiness.
Jane Steele sees her predecessor Jane Eyre as a spiritual guide – she even swears upon her copy of the novel. She shares many qualities with the original Jane, but here they are enhanced. The novel is a metafictional ride with multiple references to gothic stylization and to Bronte’s life and times. It is very tongue-in-cheek, and I laughed out loud more than once. Jane Steele is an incredible character, filled with contradictions, and I won’t forget her anytime soon.
I received this novel from Penguin Group/Putnam and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.