We are very grateful to Berkley Books for sending us an ARC of this book
Death of a Schoolgirl (The Jane Eyre Chronicles)Joanna Campbell SlanEditor's Synopsis:
07 Aug 2012
In her classic tale, Charlotte Brontë introduced readers to the strong-willed and intelligent Jane Eyre. Picking up where Brontë left off, Jane’s life has settled into a comfortable pattern: She and her beloved Edward Rochester are married and have an infant son. But Jane soon finds herself in the midst of new challenges and threats to those she loves…In this day and age of publishers and writers of so-called 'mummy-porn' retellings of the classics seemingly taken themselves way too seriously for what they are trying to sell, it is refreshing to read a reworking of a classic that while surely serious work on the part of the author does not take itself too seriously.
Jane can’t help but fret when a letter arrives from Adèle Varens—Rochester’s ward, currently at boarding school—warning that the girl’s life is in jeopardy. Although it means leaving her young son and invalid husband, and despite never having been to a city of any size, Jane feels strongly compelled to go to London to ensure Adèle’s safety. But almost from the beginning, Jane’s travels don’t go as planned—she is knocked about and robbed, and no one believes that the plain, unassuming Jane could indeed be the wife of a gentleman; even the school superintendent takes her for an errant new teacher. But most shocking to Jane is the discovery that Adèle’s schoolmate has recently passed away under very suspicious circumstances, yet no one appears overly concerned. Taking advantage of the situation, Jane decides to pose as the missing instructor—and soon uncovers several unsavory secrets, which may very well make her the killer’s next target…
Have you ever pictured Jane Eyre as a sleuth? She sure did well tracking down that Mr Rochester, didn't she? Not two years have passed since that when Joanna Campbell Slan begins the first novel of her Jane Eyre Chronicles series, Death of a Schoolgirl. We find the Rochesters at home at Ferndean, Rochester being treated for his injuries and Jane in her new role as a mother to little Ned, their firstborn. Soon after, though, the home peace is disrupted by alarming news concerning Adèle's well-being at a girls' boarding school in London. Cue Jane and her imaginary magnifying glass, although not as straightforward as that but rather more on the accidental - quite literally too - side of things.
Death of a Schoolgirl is somewhat reminiscent of Laura Joh Rowland's The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë series in that it takes the 'character' (or real person turned character in Charlotte's case), takes it out of context and puts it in the way of new, action-ridden adventures. Much like taking a tame finger puppet destined for play in a quiet shoebox and putting it in a GI Joe's background. It's impossible for the result to be 'true to life' or 'true to the original', but that's obviously beside the point. The point of it being the new scenario and how the character behaves in it.
That is to say that Jane Eyre purists, unless they keep a very open mind, will find 'fault' with a good many things(1) but if they are ready to take the novel at face value, a fun attempt at a Jane Eyre whodunnit, then they will be in for quite a treat. Sure, the novel would work the same if the main characters were called Edward and Jane Smith and their ward Renée but that would lack the fun of seeing beloved charactes behaving quite differently to what we are used to. And they and their entourage are not the only Jane Eyre characters to put in an appearance.
We don't really agree with Hank Phillippi Ryan when he is quoted as saying that it's 'So genuine it seems like a long-lost Brontë original' but we don't think that's the point of the book and there is actually no need for that. Besides, even if as far as we can see, the historical background is well recreated, the display of the research behind and the explanations on things that wouldn't be necessary had this book been written in the 19th-century, are somewhat obvious. At a girls' boarding school of the time no one would bother explaining why or how mourning is carried out - people back then - even very young children (see the young Brontës themselves) - were completely aware of how it worked and would take it for granted.
The novel, published on August 7, makes an excellent holiday read, to be read at leisure if the curiosity to find out who the villain(s) is (are) allows. A light, fun take on a well-loved classic which is clearly well-loved by its author as well. If the characters don't always seem to behave like their originals would - or according to what each reader's originals would - then that is easily overlooked by the profound respect that breathes through the pages.
Notes(1) Three things did, however, jar when reading the book:i) The fact that Mr Rochester now has a lifelong best friend called Augustus Brayton who is - obviously - never mentioned before. Even if we do understand the need for such a character - or his wife - in the novel, it feels like an easy trick to play.ii) The fact that Rochester once writes the following in a letter to Jane:
I awaken in the night and feel such emptiness as I have never known.Right. Because his wife going to friends in London for a few days is so much harder to bear than the time when he didn't know what had become of he or whether she was alive at alliii) And this inane conversation between Jane and someone else:
"I come from a family of scholars. My brother Adonis was a historian who traveled to France to do research. Sadly, he fell in love with a disreputable woman and was killed by one of her jealous lovers. We had hoped to open our own village school. Ministering to poor children was our dream, you see." [... To which Jane replies,]"Words prove inadequate; however, again, I am sorry