Lyndsay Faye – all is forgiven! You may have abandoned Timothy Wilde, the much missed NYC copper, but if the alternative is novels as wonderfully entertaining and compelling as Jane Steele then it would be churlish to bear a grudge.
If a rewriting of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre as Orphan, Governess, Serial Killer sounds unlikely, well so it is, but Faye pulls off the trick brilliantly.
It may be that Jane Austen is the nation’s favourite and it will be her likeness on the new £10 note, but surely it is Jane Eyre who is our greatest literary heroine? Here, New Yorker Faye retains the other Jane's principles, her honesty, her strength of character, compassion and self-sacrifice. They merely come to the surface from time to time in the act of homicide.
And perhaps it is Steele rather than Eyre that should be the set text for our long-oppressed schoolchildren, for most of whom Bronte is too much too young and regrettably in many cases, forever. This rather would be the perfect introduction to Jane Eyre, as few could resist turning back to an original that could inspire such a loving homage.
Jane Steele is marked by two qualities that will be familiar to those lucky enough to have read Faye’s Wilde trilogy – and if you haven’t visit my reviews of The Gods of Gotham, Seven for a Secret and The Fatal Flame for inspiration – a firecracker narrative and writing that sings.
The narrative, of course, has elements of familiarity. Jane Steele, orphan, is packed off to the boarding school of caricature nightmare by her evil guardian aunt. From there she learns the lessons of love, self-sufficiency and vengeance. During a long stint in London, she adds profanity and street smarts to her skills before applying to become governess to a young gentlewoman in Highgate House, the estate she was dismissed from by her aunt and which she regards as her birthright. There she encounters a most peculiar household, led by Mr Charles Thornfield, a wealthy veteran of the recent Sikh Wars, and a staff populated entirely by Sikhs. To reveal more would be to spoil, but rest assured there is murder aplenty, a love story that rarely runs smoothly and a fiendish mystery involving lost Punjabi treasure and treachery in the East India Company.
If there is nothing more modern than a serial-killing Jane Eyre, this is balanced by Faye’s adherence to Victorian sensibility and language – swearing apart. Jane Steele is beautifully written, probably because of this, and I got the strong sense that Faye positively reveled in this challenge such is the joy in the language.
So, don’t waste any time, buy and devour this novel. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Five stars. Brava Lyndsay Faye! Timothy would be so proud.