Sunday, December 27, 2009

An intense page-turning narrative

Another review of Sheila Kohler's Becoming Jane Eyre (this one not so positive, but also not very deep) appears in Deseret News:

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, are in style right now.
Not that the authors of the classics "Jane Eyre," "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" have ever gone out of style, but they seem to be experiencing a resurgence as of late, with a number of pieces about them recently released.
The three sisters, who lived during the mid-19th century, experienced tragedies that seem straight out of the books they wrote.
It's those parallels that author Sheila Kohler draws upon in her new novel, "Becoming Jane Eyre."
Kohler opens her story in 1846. The Brontës live in a cold parsonage on the gloomy moors of Northern England. Mrs. Brontë and two of her daughters are dead. The family's one son is addicted to alcohol and opiates. The curate is in poor health, and the three surviving daughters are spinsters.
Lacking any real chance at marriage, the sisters look to other ways of securing their futures, namely by writing.
And while Kohler touches on all the sisters, it's Charlotte who is the focus. Kohler draws on the similarities between the character Jane Eyre and Charlotte, speculating whether certain incidents and people made the transition from real life to fiction. And in doing so, Kohler changes the way readers approach the timeless work.
"Becoming Jane Eyre" is mostly told in present tense ("She lifts her gaze …" and "She surveys the scene …"), a curious decision considering most authors adopt a past tense ("They talked of many things.").
The almost stage-direction-like style is distracting, which is too bad, because Kohler has made a valiant and somewhat successful effort here. Readers will have to make it through a few chapters before reaching a rhythm.
What also makes it a curious choice is that Kohler's style is in no way similar to Charlotte's. It's as if Kohler is deliberately trying to separate her work from that of the person she writes about rather than channel her energy.
While the main focus of "Becoming Jane Eyre" is Charlotte, Kohler also writes from the points of view of sisters Anne and Emily and other family players. While informative, it's also a bit disjointed, leaving the reader guessing at times.
"Becoming Jane Eyre" is not without its merits, though. Kohler obviously did a lot of research, and her passion for the Brontë sisters' work shines through. Kohler is a master at creating tension, and once she reaches her stride, her work becomes an intense page-turning narrative. (Jessica Harrison)
The Sunday News (New Zealand) traces the Brontë past of the writer Michelle Holman:
As a child, she had started out Bronte-style, banging out Victorian romances on an old typewriter and bright pink paper. (Catherine Woulfe)
Finally, National Post (Canada) mentions the Wuthering Heights book covers à la Twilight and afewdaysinseptemberblog posts about Jane Eyre 1996.

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