Book Review: Jane Steele (Kindle Edition) by Lyndsay Faye

Posted: October 8, 2016 in Books, Romance

jane-steele

Jane Steele is an orphan, taken into Highgate House, by her aunt Prudence Barbery.  Jane’s French mother, Anne Laure-Steele, says Jane has a claim to the house, through her father but doesn’t specify how.  Aunt Prudence wants to send Jane off to Lowan Bridge School, but cousin Edwin doesn’t want Jane to go, he has other plans for her.  Cousin Edwin tries to rape Jane, and Jane kills him.  She tells Prudence it was an accident, that they were playing a game, but Jane actually pushed cousin Edwin off a ravine.  Prudence can’t take the bother of taking care of Jane anymore, and sends her off to Lowan Bridge School under the care of Vesalius Munt.

Jane hates life at Lowan Bridge, she finds Munt oppressive, he humiliates Jane in front of the class, and Jane in turn finds out that Munt is in love with teacher Amy Lillyvale, and is slowly starving Jane’s best friend Rebecca Clarke.  When Jane tries to smuggle food from Munt’s office, he catches her, and threatens to kill her.  Jane instead kills Munt, and takes Clarke and escapes to London.

In London, she and Clarke stay with a landlord named Hugh Grizzlehurst and his wife Bertha.  Hugh Grizzlehurst runs a newspaper with sensationalistic true life crime headlines.  Hugh makes Jane write headlines for the paper, which she likes, she doesn’t like the fact that Hugh beats a pregnant Bertha, so she kills him, at this point Clarke figures out that Jane killed Munt, and killed Grizzlehurst, and the two part company.    Many years later, still in London, while a lady of the evening, Jane sees an ad for a governess from Charles Thornfield, who now owns Highgate House.  Charles needs someone to take care of his young ward, Sahjara Kaur, and Jane applies for and gets the position, and just before she leaves, she kills again, this time the client of one of the other hookers, Judge Frost.  Judge Frost had threatened to kidnap the prostitute’s underage daughter, and do unspeakable things to her.  He never got the chance.  Charles has no idea that he is hiring a person who has killed four people, do Jane’s darkest secrets come out?  Does she lay claim to Highgate House?

Let me first say, that I’m a huge fan of Jane Eyre, which is why I started reading this book in the first place.  Imagine my dismay when Jane Steele becomes a serial killer.  This is not a tribute to Jane Eyre, this book is a travesty.  It trivializes one of my favorite female literary characters and turns her into a cheap pulp fiction character.  What I like so much about Jane Eyre is that with everything stacked against her, she stoically takes the barbs at  Lowood, and, after being humiliated, becomes a teacher, and then becomes a governess.  She never gives up, she works hard, and proves to herself and everyone else that she is the moral and intellectual equal of Mr. Rochester, maybe his superior.  How is Jane Steele the moral or intellectual superior of anyone?  Lindsey Faye, the author, spends so much time trying to justify these murders that this book becomes a large exercise in moral relativism. All of Jane’s victims are “bad people”, therefore they won’t be missed.  That is a horrible premise on which to base an entire book.  Jane Eyre was qualified to be a governess, she was a teacher when she applied for the job.  What exactly were Jane Steele’s qualifications?  Serial killer?  Prostitute?  I know there’s no such thing as a background check in the 1860’s, but everyone had references, who were Jane Steele’s references.

By the time the reader gets to Highgate House, Charles, his staff, and his associates are such a rogues gallery of scallywags, and the police officer investigating the murders is so unbearably incompetent that the characters didn’t mind having a killer in their midst, and I didn’t care what happened to any of these characters.  The similarities to Jane Eyre are only superficial, Lowood is now called Lowan Bridge, for example.  Thornfield is not the name of the estate, but the name of the master of the estate.  But when Jane Eyre’s friend Helen died, I honestly wept, when Jane Steele and her friend Clarke are separated, I felt nothing.  That’s the difference between a classic and modern literature, aping a classic.  It’s a shame, I really did like Faye’s first book, Gods of Gotham, but I won’t be reading her books for a while after this.

Jane Steele:  Stealing from a classic.

 

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