Sometimes it’s the books we love the most that are the hardest to write about, right? I loved Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele, plain and simple. It’s a novel that I want to buy so that I can read it again. I can see it becoming a “comfort read” for me in the future. It’s genuinely romantic, a page-turning mystery, and a surprisingly feminist spin on a classic, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
I have only read Jane Eyre once – I know, GASP! – back in high school. It’s one of those books that I’ve been meaning to reread for ages. But it’s influence is so widespread that the story feels fresh to me somehow. I certainly don’t think you have to have read Jane Eyre recently or ever to enjoy Jane Steele, but for me it added an extra layer of enjoyment.
This is not what I would call a retelling, but rather I feel it is a companion piece to the original. This Jane tells us from the first page,
I have been reading over and over again the most riveting book titled Jane Eyre, and the work inspires me to imitative acts. My new printing features a daring introduction by the author railing against the first edition’s critics. I relate to this story almost as I would a friend or a lover – at times I want to breathe it’s entire alphabet into my lungs, and at others I should prefer to throw it across the room. Whoever heard of disembodied voices calling to governesses, of all people, as this Jane’s do?
Jane Steele is also an orphan, suffers at a horrible boarding school, and she becomes a governess, but there is one huge difference from the original – she’s a murderer. This is not a spoiler, as it’s on the inside jacket flap and included in the first sentence. I will say that she does not kill for fun. Jane Steele is a warrior, fiercely protective of the people she cares for. Perhaps this is what I loved most about the novel – her spirit of resourcefulness and capability, and her courage. There is a decidedly feminist tone to the book, in Jane’s strength and also in her ownership of her sexuality. Jane is a realistically lusty woman, and I appreciated that.
Which brings me to the romance at the heart of the novel. I am not a dedicated romance reader, as a genre, but I DO appreciate a heartfelt, moving, deeply felt love story. Lyndsay Faye has succeeded in bringing to life a sexy, slightly tortured, romantic pairing in Jane and Mr. Thornfield. I will not say more because I don’t want to spoil the plot. But I loved, loved, loved, the pacing and unfolding of Jane’s attraction to her pupil’s father figure.
There’s also a riveting mystery about something precious hidden in a trunk, and a whole bunch of history about the British and Sikh wars in the Punjab, and all the while Jane is terrified of her past catching up with her. I simultaneously couldn’t turn pages fast enough and didn’t want it to end.
I’m thrilled to have discovered that Lyndsay Faye has written previous novels and am adding them all to my TBR. And I bought a used copy of Jane Eyre at the bookstore tonight. I’m inspired now to reread the original after all this time. This is going up there with Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest for my favorite books of the year so far. It’s also my first read for the 10 Books of Summer challenge. What a fun, well-written book to kick off my challenge!