Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jillian Dare - A Review

We are very grateful to Revell Books for sending us a review copy of this book:

Jillian Dare: A Novel
Melanie M. Jeschke
Price: $12.99
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3316-2
ISBN-10: 0-8007-3316-9
Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
Number of pages: 288
Publication Date: May. 09
Formats: Paperback
The author of this contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre says in a final Note from the Author:
This book was not written for the (Brontë) purists, however, but for three other types of readers. The first type -like me- is the lover of the classics who enjoys contemporary adaptations and is intrigued by finding the similarities and differences with the original story, as well as by conjecturing how the author will work things out in a modern setting. The second is the type who likes to read romantic suspense. And the third is the person who has not yet read Jane Eyre. My great hope is that this reader will enjoy my story enough to be inspired to read the original classic.
This reviewer doesn't consider himself a Brontë purist, doesn't particularly like romantic suspense as a genre and has of course read Jane Eyre. Therefore we belong to the first type: lovers of the classics who enjoy contemporary retellings. This review will try to approach Melanie M. Jeschke's book from this point of view.

Jane Eyre's story can be (and it has been) re-contextualised in very different settings from the space-opera in Sharon Shinn's Jenna Starborn, or the retelling barely disguised as sequel in Elizabeth Newark's Jane Eyre's Daughter to the erotic S/M exploitation of Disciplining Jane, to cite but a few instances. Melanie M. Jeschke's option is the mass-market Christian romance suspense. As a starting point this is as good or as bad a choice as any other one. Nevertheless, the final result reveals that the narrow leeway of the subgenre is a too-tight corset. The novel lacks space to breath and succumbs to its own limitations.

The main self-imposed limitation begins with the changes to the plot as they are not only mere contemporisations but sometimes attack the core of some of the defining trends of some of the characters. Particularly with Rochester, here Ethan Remington. This is a decaf, low-calorie Rochester from whom there is no trace of mystery or sense of danger. He is the adoring father (of Adèle, here Cadence, conveniently changed into a toddler), the thoughtful lover, the champion of marriage malgré tout. Other characters seem to have passed through a coat of softening and sweetening paint too: Grace Poole (no trace of alcoholic habits) or Richard Mason (here Calvin Cole) now best pal of Rochester's. The exceptions to this treatment are Bertha (Crystal) and St. John (John Brooke). Crystal's malevolent and almost diabolical behaviour is used as a (too) obvious, desperate, alibi for Ethan's redemption. With John Brooke, the author mirrors (conscious or unconsciously) Charlotte Brontë's treatment of St. John. She tries, almost compulsively, to generate admiration for the character's intentions and sacred mission. Nevertheless, the text transpires an antipathy for the character which is a nice surprise in a novel like this.

Concerning the main character, she is a well-defined character but her psychological evolution is minimal as compared with the original Jane. A common side effect of the millsandboonization of a Bildungsroman.

Gateshead is more or less evoked (a wink to connaisseurs but not actually important to the plot) but the novel obviates the whole Lowood scenario. The elimination of Helen Burns is particularly shocking in a Christian retelling. It seems as if her absence is a collateral effect of the elimination of Mr Brocklehurst which in itself defines the author's intentions.

The main problems with Jillian Dare are finally not related to the inconsistencies of the plot (it is not plausible that Jillian doesn't know Remington's secret; we will not reveal spoilers here but this is a major hole in the novel's credibility) or the theological digressions about the remarriage of divorcees. They are not related neither to the moral postulates of the author and the characters. The real problem with Jillian Dare is that in essence, this is the novel that Elizabeth Rigby would have loved to read when she was shocked after reading the original. Finally, Jillian Dare's main virtue is to have reduced the coarse Charlotte Brontë to a lyophilised version able to satisfy even the Rigbys of our day.

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