Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jane by April Lindner

JaneAs I write this on a teeny tiny cell phone screen, FedEx is probably circling my office with a new monitor, but not yet with the requisite parts to run said monitor. This has thrown a great big ugly wrench into my "get stuff done" plans, but has been very helpful in prompting me to continue the great shelf clean-out of 2011.

One of the most recent picks in said book downsizing was Jane by April Lindner (Hachette--Poppy). I was thinking that I might have some issues with a retelling of Jane Eyre, given that I have issues with Jane Eyre; while I did have some Jane issues, I should probably frame this review with the note that I wasn't reading with an eye toward putting the book down, counting pages. Instead, I stayed up past my bedtime two nights, something I can't justify very often, and something I tend to not do when my eyes feel like raisins well before I'd normally be asleep.

I think that retellings are difficult beasts. In retelling, it's easy to get mired down in the original storyline, or to lose the emotional thread in a retelling that goes further astray. The best of the latter are probably not so much retellings--just stories inspired by the originals.

I wasn't excited to find out that Mr. Rochester in Jane has been transformed into a(n) (probably) in-his-thirties rock star, but this worked far better than I thought it would, because it a) gave Mr. Rochester--well, Jane's Nico Rathburne--a reason to have been a bad boy beyond "I felt like it," b) gave Nico a (better) reason to be comfortable with famous friends and not-so-famous staff, and c) mitigated some of his neediness and disbelief that he could be loved for himself, as he's had fans of music and merely image.

Nineteen-year-old Jane is somewhat less transformed, coming to the Rathburne household as a nanny. I have always found Jane, in the original and here, hard to connect with. She feels dour and terse, and maybe too forgiving of that older man in her life.

Before I go off on the updating tangent, Jane has a pleasant length and pacing. That might sound like an odd compliment, but if you've read Jane Eyre and thought the part with St. John would never end, you might understand what I mean. There's much less Gothic horror and more of the traditional romance structure in Jane.

While I'm pleased with the update, I also feel that it magnifies some issues. For example, Jane and Nico's dialog sounds old-fashioned and odd. We don't get as much of Jane's development and feelings of desperate solitude, even when she's not sure where she'll spend her first night alone; she has siblings, and she must enforce separation from them and their unhealthy relationships. Jane also remembers her parents' less-than-perfect parenting skills, but it doesn't have as much impact in flashbacks and memories as it might if it directly affected her present problems. the attic, well, in today's world, adult protective services would probably be involved, and obtaining a divorce in this day and age, in the United States (where this story is set) would not be unduly scrutinized. I have no particular thoughts on--or maybe I find the good and bad balance in--Nico's ultimate karmic "punishment." But maybe I'm really missing issues of faith and morality, social class, and gender roles that by virtue of time period can't be the thematic hinges of this Jane, just a multitude of factors in personality.

I enjoyed the romance focus of Jane, as well as the streamlined story. I'd recommend Jane for those looking for the same. I suspect that teen Jane Eyre fans would like Jane, and those who've struggled with Jane Eyre might be able to return to the original after reading the bones in Jane. Finally, Jane is, I suspect, an entry into the field of "new adult" literature, filling in the gap of protagonists between age 18-ish and adult, and I can't fault that in any way.

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