5 stars,  gothic,  historical fiction

Review: ‘Jane Steele’ by Lyndsay Faye

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?


Of all my murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important.  Already this project proves more difficult than I had ever imagined.  Autobiographies depend upon truth; but I have been lying for such a very long, lonesome time” [Page 1]

I think I first heard about Jane Steele on a Book Riot list of upcoming releases to watch out for (which I now can’t find, although it also appears in this list of the Best Books of 2016 so far).  Call me morbid but something about the idea of a stabby Jane Eyre really appealed to me and I ordered a copy from my library pretty much straight away.
I was right to: I absolutely loved it.  I was surprised by just how much, to be honest.  I can see why it might not be quite the thing for you if you’re a complete purist but for me, it was just how I like my re-tellings/adaptations.  Generally, I don’t like ‘adaptations’ of classics that follow the exact same plot but just modernise the language and give characters new names.  If I wanted to read the exact story of Jane Eyre, I’d read Jane Eyre.  I do, however, like takes on classics that follow some of the plot and have a similar feel to them but that do something new and different with the characters or take the original plot and twist it about a bit.
Jane Steele takes Jane Eyre and injects some violence and a few murders; where the original character might have bowed to convention or absorbed maltreatment, Jane Steele takes action.  The book is written as if it’s Jane Steele’s autobiography and she addresses the reader in the same confiding way as her namesake, the cover of the version I read going so far as to play on the iconic ‘Reader, I married him’ with a gaudy ‘Reader, I murdered him’.  The writing style is perfect and it works even when it sounds like it shouldn’t.
What is clever about this version (and what I think stops it from being gimicky) is that Jane Steele acknowledges that she’s a bit of a parody of her literary heroine.  Jane Steele the character loves Jane Eyre the character and her narrative includes wry little references to the original work that stop the similarities feeling trite and over-worked and give a feeling more as though readers are part of an inside joke.

My boundless affection for the protagonist of Jane Eyre has already been established; and yet, I cannot resist stating that she made the most dismal investigator in the history of literature” [Page 210]

For all of its humour and for all that it is a re-telling, I was totally hooked.  It could easily have been a case of style over substance but it had just the right balance between the outline of Jane Eyre’s story and the detail of Jane Steele’s.  Every time I picked up this book, I lost an hour.  I read it in a few sittings and when I finished, I genuinely felt at a loss.  Jane Steele is bloody brilliant, obviously, but so are her fellow pupils at the creepy boarding school and the other residents of Highgate House.  One of my favourite books of the year so far, easily.
Overall:  If you’re a Jane Eyre fan and don’t mind someone taking a few liberties with the story, this book is an absolute must.  It’s appropriately gothic and packed full of nods to the original without being anything like a pointless re-hash.  So. Much. Fun.  I’ve already ordered another of Lyndsay Faye’s books (Sherlock Holmes/Dr Watson take on Jack the Ripper…) and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Date finished: 17 July 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Historical fiction
Pictured Edition Published: in March 2016 by Headline Review