To me, Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele is a box of unlabeled Swiss chocolates. Pieces of the story are discovered to be decadent hazelnut gianduja, begging repeat tastings, and others reveal themselves to be a unique but vaguely disappointing orange liqueur cream. But then behold! a delicious caramel!
I am happy to report that however mysterious the contents of this book may be, they are most decidedly more pleasant than unpleasant.
I had heard Steele’s Victorian crime thriller touted as a fantastically grisly retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. While it shares some similarities (e.g. a protagonist named ‘Jane’, scarring events at a terrifyingly abusive girls’ school, and a great English estate in the countryside) with the former, I would name it rather Jane Eyre’s modern sister-novel.
Lovers of the genre, in general, will rejoice to discover that Faye’s historical voice is absolutely flawless, recounted to reflect all the wit and feeling of a Victorian heroine but happily none of the helplessness. It is expected that fans of Jane Eyre will be attracted by the direct homage; quotes by Bronte’s novel pepper the margins and the protagonist, who tells the story in first person, often refers to ‘the other Jane’ in order to draw comparisons.
But if Jane Eyre carefully forged a path where there was none, Jane Steele echoes the intention by building a series of bridges in the trees above. Steele is not prone to trembling fits, does not worry overmuch about her chastity, and usually does what is best for her in the moment instead of honoring a deity or memories of her dead parents. As a matter of fact, this Jane is a liar, a thief, and a murderess. She is also delightful.
Some interesting new mechanics appear in Steele. Faye plays with the ideas of same-sex attraction, assault and victim-shaming, the arts as an ignoble yet profitable profession, friendly apathy in leadership, erotica and awakening sexuality in the young, xenophobia, post-traumatic stress, and more.
Listening to the Audible edition of this novel was a rich sensory experience. Faye’s wry sentence structure sometimes caused me to chuckle, and often I sighed appreciatively at a pretty passage. The reader may also expect some twists and more than a little gore.
After I finished Jane Steele, my enjoyment of the work prompted me to do some reconnaissance on the author. I’m always pleased to find writers who have a thriving social media presence, and Lyndsay does not disappoint. In fact, after reading about her, I think I want to be her friend.
This young lady is a professional actress turned writer. She has cats, loves to cook, and is a member of several literary societies, including the Baker Street Babes, which is “an all-female group of Sherlock Holmes fans dedicated to approaching the fandom from a female point of view, as well as engaging in fun, lively conversations about the canon, film and television adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, and associated topics”. Which, hello. Is amazing.
Excuse me while I place three more of Faye’s books on hold. I will see you next month.