This book was slow to start for me. I found it interesting and enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I didn’t exactly need to pick it up or anything, and I kept getting distracted by cheesy romance novels I checked out from the library instead. I should have just been patient. At around 25% (the time she commits her second murder), I was hooked, and at about halfway through when new characters enter the picture, I was so into it I practically read it all the way through. (It’s probably not a coincidence that the further you get into the book, the further it strays from its supposed “Jane Eyre re-telling” frame and becomes its own thing.)
So, yeah, this is bare-bones a Jane-Eyre-if-she-was-a-serial-killer story, but that really doesn’t do the book justice at all*. It’s more of a concept the author deviates from almost immediately. Actually, Jane Eyre is a book in the world of the novel. It is in fact Jane Steele’s favorite book. (I’m convinced she changed Thornfield’s name to Thornfield in her narrative as an homage, because otherwise that’s too much coincidence.)
*I wouldn’t really classify her as a serial killer, either. She never murders for the pleasure of murdering. There is always a reason.
Faye notes in her afterword that Charlotte Brontë’s foreword to her own book (wherein she states, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion”) is really the founding principle of this book. Jane Eyre the novel supports that statement, but Jane Steele lives it to the max. Jane is a not an immoral, irredeemable character, despite being a murderer. She is not evil or a sociopath. She simply prescribes to a belief system that is not matched by the society that birthed her, and she refuses to be kept in a cage fashioned by other people’s morality.
The reason why I ended up loving this book so much was that ultimately it wasn’t about a woman who becomes a murderer in contrast to her narrative counterpart, Miss Eyre, but because it’s about the connections between people, and finding in the world the people whom you love, flaws and all, and allowing them to love you in return. The novel is riddled with pairs of people constantly trying to form emotional connections of all kinds (familial love, friendship, romantic love, sexual attraction, etc.), and not everyone succeeds. There’s also a bit of a mystery, and British/Indian history, and some truly unexpected characters and events I won’t even try to explain because they’re best experienced out of the blue.
I will definitely be buying this in hardcover, and it is totally worth the $2.50 cents in fines I accrued keeping this late from the library to finish it.