There are books you can’t put down because they are so good, and there are those you can’t put down because they are so bad. Jane by April Lindner (Little, Brown 2010) falls into the secondary category.
Jane, heavily influenced by Jane Eyre, is the story of Jane Moore–a nineteen year-old nanny. The reason I picked this book up, (besides the fact that is was $2) was because I happen to love Jane Eyre. I guess an important distinction that I didn’t think of at the time was that I love Jane Eyre the book–NOT Jane Eyre the character. I don’t know what it is about the Bronte sisters, but most of their female characters are really unlikable: Lucy Snow, Catherine Earnshaw, Jane Eyre…not the kind of girls I’d want to shoe shop with. It kind of makes you wonder about the Brontes…but anyway. The novel Jane Eyre (like most of the Bronte sisters’ books, in my opinion) is good because it is well written; it tells a complex and layered story, with nuanced themes and ideas. I remember one English class where we read the entire novel focusing only on the description of birds and their relation to Jane. My point is–that’s why Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights keep appearing on syllabi–not because they are some great love story. Heathcliff is a complete prick, and Mr. Rochester is borderline bipolar. Of course, some people think Edward Cullen is romantic, so maybe I’m just an anomaly.
Getting back to the lamentable Jane–oh there are so, so many problems I have with this novel. Let’s start with the premise. It just really isn’t possible to make the original Jane Eyre storyline work in the present day. Let’s be honest, it was a pretty crazy plot-line for the 1800’s. Sad orphan with poor social skills gets a governess job in a scary remote estate, falls in love with her rich boss who keeps his crazy wife in the attic, etc etc.
Lindner realized this would be a little tricky to translate. As she smugly tells us in the Author’s Note, “hardest of all would be recreating the insurmountable class difference that has to exist between Jane and Mr. Rochester”…”Then it dawned on me: Mr. Rochester could be a rock star.”
Well. Technically you’re writing the book lady, so Mr. Rochester could be anyone, but a rock star? That’s your big idea of class difference? I guess I respect that she didn’t make him an heir to a hotelier fortune, and Jane a pool cleaner’s daughter, but I don’t really think of a famous musician as being ‘classier’ than myself. For instance, I’ve seen more than one photo of Britney Spears walking into a gas station bathroom barefoot.
But this whole book is just a mish-mash of Lindner’s desperate attempts to update a gothic novel. In the 1800’s, yes, being a governess was just about the only option for a poor, but well-educated woman. But in the 2000’s, I’m pretty sure Jane Moore could do better even without a complete college degree. The animosity and dislike Jane’s whole family seems to hold for her also was confusing to me. At least the original Jane was an orphan–everyone hates an orphan. But Jane Moore’s parents seem to inexplicably hate her, though they seem to like her brother and sister just fine. When they die, they leave our poor Jane with some worthless stocks, while her brother and sister (who also, *spoiler* hate her) get large lump sums and houses. Lindner seems to be pushing the idea that everyone in Jane’s family is a rotten person and she is just a pillar of kindness and forgiveness, but I’m dubious. Coupled with the fact that she also has no friends, I’m betting that Jane is a real pill. At least that part matches up with Bronte’s character.
To summarize the plot–just read Jane Eyre and then throw in some cell phones and guitars. It makes it much creepier when it’s 2010 and the nineteen year-old nanny is being seduced by the thirty-plus musician. I think now we call that sexual harassment. I also resent how Lindner took very few liberties with the story; she really followed the plot point by point, to the detriment of the story. In my mind, when a book is ‘inspired’ by another–better, more famous–novel, there should be something new brought to the table. Example: Emma and Clueless. But here we have almost the exact story, but written poorly and unimaginatively.
For instance: 1800’s, definitely a kindness to keep your deranged wife out of the hellhole that any ‘mental facility’ would have been. In contrast, there is no believable way that millions of dollars couldn’t buy you better healthcare than being locked in an attic.
And Secret Wife is also a pyromaniac. Mysterious fires in large manor houses can be mysterious if your main source of illumination is candles. Otherwise, would you really believe your employer when he said he accidentally set a fire in his closet? Because I would have some follow-up questions.
Oh and Nico (Mr. Rochester) also carries a handkerchief. How do I know? Because he frequently hands it over to Jane to dab her eyes with. While the original Jane Eyre is promoted as an early feminist and praised for her independence, this Jane is sadly, well, not. For her day and age Jane Eyre was pretty self-sufficient and independent. But the same actions in 1800 do not translate in 2010–Jane here seems more whiny, needy, and frankly, pretty stupid as well.
With a straggling and unbelievable plotline, text peppered with cringe-inducing and sometimes baffling metaphors, and completely unlikable and unbelievable characters, the only thing that helped me force myself through this book was the hope that I could dissuade one of you from suffering the same fate.