by Lyndsay Faye
“Reader, I murdered him.”
A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
Burning to know whether she is, in fact, the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.
4 of 5 Stars
I’m actually a little surprised with how much I enjoyed this story. I’m not normally drawn to much historical fiction but wanted to give this a try because the murdering protagonist seemed very interesting. I felt like it was the perfect combination of a few elements. The historical aspect was a good way of keeping it from becoming too graphic but still pushing the boundaries of what might be acceptable.
From the first few pages, I was instantly drawn to the main character, Jane. The book is written with her as a narrator and several times throughout she speaks directly to the reader. I really enjoyed this because it felt like it brought me into the story in a completely different way. On top of really reaching out and involving the reader, Jane is an easy character to connect with. She’s curious about the world around her as well as the people who surround her.
While Jane is obviously the character we get to know best, there are a number of others introduced through the story. Her mother only appears briefly before her death and other characters are quickly brought in. There are many characters brought in that are just fun to hate and in a way I wish they’d been fleshed out a little more. This is especially true for the headmaster at the school. I appreciated having a villain but wanted a little more reason for his awful behavior.
The only part of the whole book I’m on the fence about is the ending. I both loved it and wish it had been different. I went into this book expecting something more raw, gritty, and disturbing. While much of the content is dark, it’s a softer form of this genre. Those who hate open endings will be happy to note that this story wraps up really well. Perhaps a little too well? I was left with a feeling of “and they lived happily ever after…” even if it wasn’t directly stated.
Overall, I highly recommend this to those who like either romance or historical fiction and want to expand into something a tiny bit darker than what you normally read. I’m also inspired to add Jane Eyre to my reading list for the coming year!
Thank you to Penguin Group and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.