Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye, is a reimagining of the story of Jane Eyre with a more feisty protagonist. It is written using “elaborately Victorian verbage, and Dickensian names, and genuine Sikh history”. It tells the story of a serial killer whose actions the reader may not condone but will be hard pressed to condemn.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will…” (Jane Eyre)
Written in the form of an autobiography this torrid tale opens with Jane looking back on the first of her murders, which occurred shortly after her ninth birthday. She ponders her supposedly wicked nature, reflecting on the life she led with her dear departed, drug addicted mother in the years before this cataclysmic event.
Jane’s life was further shaped by her years at boarding school where she learned to scheme and lie and steal in order to survive. From here she made her way to London, earning her keep writing lurid prose for news sheets. She lived amongst the dregs of humanity, many of whom offered her friendship and support despite their improper proclavities. She repaid their kindnesses by murdering again and again and again.
Her decision to return to Highgate House as a governess was inspired by a desire to claim the place as her own. She did not expect to fall in love, and naturally this does not run smooth. The reader will ask: What horrors are to be found in the cellars from which she is banned? Why does her employer refuse to touch any flesh while it still lives? What deadly secrets do the Sikh staff hide?
As the plucky protagonist rues her wicked deeds, regretting only that she may one day be found out, she relishes the erotic fantasies she conjures involving her employer. Boarding school provided her with an education in the broadest sense of the word.
This book should be ridiculous yet somehow the author has made it work. It pokes fun at the dark deeds recounted, never taking itself too seriously. The narrative is infused with humour and wit, is entertaining and engaging. This is exactly what good storytelling should be.
An enjoyable read for those looking for a mischievous take on a classic. I suspect it would delight Ms Brontë, and not just for the compliment being paid to her work.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.