Jane SteeleJane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Oh, I knew who I was – a scarlet-toothed tigress, one forever burdened by the iron weight of her own black stripes.

many thanks to the great anmiryam for passing this arc my way, because it was so exactly what i wanted to read, i don’t even feel bad about letting it cut the line of book-suitors already vying for my attentions.

i read a lot of reviews here on and while i have a pretty good memory for books i have read, i frequently forget the specific content of reviews after i read them. if the book interests me based on a review, i add it to my to-read list, “like” the review, and move along. so in my head, i misremembered this book as being a retelling of Jane Eyre in which jane herself was a serial killer. but that’s not it at all – it’s much cheekier and more interesting than that.

this follows the life and bloody trail of jane steele, whose experiences mirror Jane Eyre in some ways, but is a much easier character for a modern reader to applaud. don’t get me wrong, Jane Eyre is a great book, but i personally get a little impatient with the way she sabotages her own happiness based on her notions of propriety or morality and the conventions of her time. it’s all perfectly reasonable behavior when you’re reading with your scholar-glasses on, but it’s not always easy to shelve those modern sensibilities that would prefer jane push up her sleeves and call rochester out on his bullshit instead of quietly absconding to suffer alone on that moral high ground.

this jane is always pushing up her sleeves, but mostly to avoid getting blood all over them.

it’s a fantastically funny and winky companion book. jane steele, after being orphaned and suffering at the hands of a bitter aunt and an amorous cousin, commits her first murder at the age of nine:

I don’t know the term for a child who falls asleep after her first murder and before confessing her sins, but I suspect it is not an intensely complimentary one.

before being shipped off to a boarding school worse than the one ms. eyre endures, but this jane knows how to handle herself in a much more proactive way.

I cocked my head and gauged his condition: dead.

she has all the qualities that make jane eyre so formidable and likable; she’s protective of those who are more vulnerable than she is, she’s resourceful and brave and determined, but she’s … amplified from her literary predecessor, and she takes care of business when business needs taking care of.

the novel is presented as an autobiography, with a twist: I have been reading over and over again the most riveting book titled Jane Eyre, and the work inspires me to imitative acts. the language, locations, and details are all in keeping with a traditional victorian novel, but jane frequently addresses and deflates their conventions in her own story –

There is no practice more vexing than that of authors describing coach travel for the edification of people who have already travelled in coaches. As I must adhere to form, however, I will simply list a series of phrases for the unlikely reader who has never gone anywhere: thin eggshell dawn-soaked curtains stained with materials unknown to science; rattling fit to grind bones to powder; the ripe stench of horse and driver and bog. Now I have fulfilled my literary duties…

and more succinctly:

Some memoirs explain social hierarchies by means of illustrative anecdotes, but mine is about homicide, not ladies’ schools.

she continues to reference Jane Eyre both directly and indirectly, as jane at twenty-four becomes governess to the ward of mr. thornfield, an enigmatic man who himself has outsider qualities from having lived so long abroad in punjab, adopting “foreign” ways less restrictive than those typical in england at the time, allowing jane’s less demure female characteristics room to unfurl in all their glory, to his great delight.

it’s all-around fantastic and it reads like a funnier sarah waters. faye has that facility for historical description that’s so impressive in waters:

Some cities bustle, some meander, I have read; London blazes, and it incinerates. London is the wolf’s maw. From the instant I arrived there, I loved every smouldering inch of it.

A lad hunched against a shoddy dressmaker’s dummy slumbered in, cradled by his faceless companion. The atmosphere was redolent – meat sat piled up to a shop door’s limit of some six feet, the butcher sharpening massive knives before his quarry. Yesterday’s cabbage was crushed underfoot, and tomorrow’s cackling geese were arriving in great crates, ready to kill. So early, the square we passed through ought to have been populated only be spectres. Instead, sounds reverberated from all directions – treble notes from a bamboo flute; the breathy scream of a sardine costermonger; the bass rumble of a carrot vendor, his cart piled with knobby red digits, shouting as his donkey staggered in the slick.

It was not welcoming, but it was galvanising. Arguing with London was useless; she was inexorable, sure as the feral dawn.

and she writes every character to full-color perfection.

i howl for clarke. ’nuff said.

it’s just great stuff; a more feminist version of a story that was already scandalously feminist for its time, but it’s not agenda-laden, it’s just a sly, calm dissection and reconstruction of something familiar given a fierce new makeover.

reader, i recommend it.

read my reviews on goodreads

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