RSS: RSS Feed Icon


I should warn that this post is going to have spoilers except the book (JANE by April Lindner) is a retelling of JANE EYRE so the spoilers are rather obvious. If you read one book, then you've essentially read the other but consider yourself forewarned nonetheless.

I've been thinking about JANE for awhile. It's a book that I finished but was not sure I wanted to devote column inches to because I continue to have some problems with it. (I really try to give the column space to books I feel very positive about.) I also think it's the kind of book that would benefit from discussion which I can't do at Bookslut. So, here's what I think and why I'm conflicted.

Just as the ARC advertises, JANE is a "modern retelling of JANE EYRE". This go-round you have Nico Rathburn, a famous rock star (according to an author's note he's based on Springsteen so that kind of famous) who had a storied drug-fueled past and is now returning to the stage a wiser man. Jane Moore is a college dropout (the money has dried up due to the death of her parents) who takes a job as nanny to Nico's daughter. Folks at Thornfield Park (Nico's estate) are professional but a wee bit odd. In particular there is a woman who works on the third floor that everyone is supposed to leave to her own devices. Jane wants to know more about this woman and what's upstairs (NEVER GO UP THERE) but no information is forthcoming. She loves the little kid (whose mother is an ex girlfriend, Paris Hiltonesque singer/model currently hanging out in Europe - she lost custody) and quickly falls for Nico. Romance blossoms and then a few things start getting revealed and, well, all sorts of stuff happens.

The problem with moving JANE EYRE to the 21st century is that some situations no longer exist. Nico's mad wife in the attic is suffering from schizophrenia and he keeps her locked in the house with only one weird caretaker because, he claims, mental institutions are such horrible places. That one really does not fly - especially when you are talking about a spectacularly wealthy man. There are many places in the world where she could be cared for and her privacy maintained but the reader has to cast those realities aside to accept the basic premise of the novel. Further, Nico is still married to her because he loves her. Even though she is crazy and doesn't know him. And then he falls in love with Jane but doesn't get a divorce before trying to marry Jane. And doesn't tell Jane he is still married. So when the secret gets exposed (on their wedding day!!!) it all looks very bad for Nico and Jane leaves him.

WELL OF COURSE SHE DOES! It's admirable to care for your mentally ill first wife (he feels guilty since he got her onto the drugs that messed her up) but keep her locked in the house with very limited medical care (one woman who has a drinking problem looks out for her?????) and stay married to her and then try to marry someone else? RUN, JANE, RUN!!!!! Again, in Bronte's work this made sense - you couldn't divorce then, asylums were horrific, medical care for the mentally ill nonexistent but none of those situations are true today. And honestly if Nico loves Bibi that much then why in the world does he fall for Jane?

Which brings up another question - why Nico falls for Jane. She's nearly twenty years younger than him and while age is not everything, what I couldn't find was a spark in here. Jane didn't bring anything to the table (other than not doing drugs) that made her exceptional. She's nice and sweet and smart but there's no witty banter, no passion, between the two protagonists. He apparently fires all of his previous nannys because they fall for him but Jane, who holds out a couple of weeks, is the exception he can not resist? I understand her falling for him (rich rock star - it's all very Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise) but I don't see what she offers him and the way she runs off in the middle of the night really didn't impress me. Just break up like an adult already if that's what you want to do! But running away - especially on the little girl who loves you - that doesn't seem very mature. (But then again maybe this does follow the Cruise/Holmes model of just wanting a younger woman who adores you.)

We need Jane to flee to set up the rest of the book - where in the original she is offered marriage by a cousin to save her reputation. Again, this is 2010 so that's not a concern and Lindner really had to struggle to force the marriage proposal in. First, somehow Jane has been working for a gazillionaire and living at his house (rent free) for months but has practically no money. So she runs away and can't even get a hotel to figure out her next step. She falls on the kindness of strangers (at a coffee shop no less) who take her in and then the plot spins into a whole other direction as one of them (the guy) ends up being a missionary who is going to Haiti to help the people there and thinks Jane should go also to change the world and find some direction in her life. And since they are going to Haiti why not get married? Sure they don't love each other, but what the hey - he is very cute and on a crusade and all. Jane weighs this second proposal very carefully but then finds out about tragedy at the estate! Bibi is dead! There was a fire! Nico has been looking for her for months! She must return to him!

And she does and he loves her and now he's not married anymore and there you go. It's over and it's just like JANE EYRE. But can you see why I'm conflicted?

There are just too many times in this novel that the reader must give up 20th century truths to embrace a 19th century novel. Jane has to be abandoned and needy (I won't even go into the convoluted subplot involving her siblings and how they steal her parents' estate and don't help her - even though most courts would have put a huge stop to this one); Nico has to defy all logic concerning his wife and fall in love with the new girl for no discernible reason; Jane has to disappear and be basically penniless again; there has to be a second marriage proposal even though there is no reason for one today and Jane has to have been oblivious to what is going on in Nico's life for months. This one was especially tough for me because if she really loved that little girl she would have at least googled Nico to see what was happening after the big Entertainment Tonight-worthy story of their breakup at the altar. But she doesn't look even once? Can I see this in back in Bronte's day? Sure. But nowadays? It's another stretch and on top of all the others it was a bit much.

And then they are reunited in a matter of ten pages and it's all okay. This is a bit problematic to say the least because society was not keeping them apart - they were keeping each other apart. Their romance requires more work to fix than Jane's & Rochester's because they were much more to blame for the breakup. That third necessary component of what everyone else thinks/demands is missing in the plot and it leaves a huge hole that just is not filled. Honestly, maybe it can't be filled - maybe this just isn't a book that lends itself to the modern age. I can't fault Lindner for trying but perhaps she went after something that was impossible to achieve.

Can Jane Eyre live in 2010? I don't know - I just know I didn't exactly find her in this retelling.

comments

I think you could do Jane Eyre in 2010 because the problems you list (which are big deals, especially the bit about his mentally ill wife living at home because he doesn't try mental ill homes and doesn't tell Jane he's married.) just need to be fixed. A creative author could find a way of working in similar problems in Jane Eyre that were more realistic. Like maybe the wife was terminally ill. or something. I'm not creative enough to be an author so I have no idea. haha

Hey, you finished the book, which was more than I did.

I think you've hit on most of the reasons it just didn't work. The other one that jumped out at me was the unlikelihood that an upper-middle-class girl at a good school wouldn't have spent more time trying to stay in college - there are loans, there are special grants, there are student aid societies... so from the beginning, for me, this just didn't ring true.

And now I must get back to my long-neglected chapter-at-a-time blogging of the original Jane.

One other thing - class differences (perceived ones, at least) are such a big part of the original Jane, and that's really hard to work into a modern context. It's not that class doesn't exist, of course, but the hierarchy is different, and so are the signifiers.

This one's definitely a blog post of its own...

Like MissAttitude, I feel that there must be a way to do this right, and that this simply is not it. A less literal retelling would be more successful. Don't follow the original so much! I can't help but think, why bother, if so little is different? Now I'm trying to figure out ways that this could work better...

Yes to all of you in that I think it could be done but you have to mess around a bit with it...being too literal in this case just didn't work.

And Sarah, the class difference was massive wasn't it? I almost wonder if she could have played with race difference or ethnicity maybe? An actual difference that does still exist.

And the college bit bugged me too - we have all had college funding problems and found a way to make it work. Jane didn't even try.

SW

Oh, Lord, that sounds dreadful. Part of what makes Jane Eyre so great is the character of Jane herself. As others have pointed out, it was much, much harder for Bronte's Jane to make her way in the world and her struggle to do so while steadfastly maintaining her own sense of morality (values if you want to use the 21st century term) is part of what makes her so interesting. It's hard for me to imagine a Jane Eyre that doesn't wrestle with issues of faith and moral character, which this version doesn't seem to (nor do most contemporary novels, for better or worse).

Yes - the values change is huge from 19th to 21st century and that weighs on the book a lot. There is just no reason to be alarmed by Jane sleeping with Nico - at worst it is a bad love affair but will it brand Jane for life? No. (Actually it would probably make her famous enough to get a book deal if we're honest.) That's part of why the whole rush to marriage seemed forced in the book. Nico wants to marry her, sends her off on a Pretty Woman-esque shopping trip, hurries to the courthouse and I kept trying to figure out why. They barely knew each other and there was no reason to hurry it along (plus he was still married to Bibi). That rush coupled with his lie never get resolved in the book but it might have been an attempt at trying to make values/morals part of the plot.

I don't know. To me it just stood out as another way in which the book could not mimic the original and instead fell flat. (And another example of who perhaps an author should not try to mimic the original.)

Oh, my, I haven't read this yet and now I'm afraid to! :-) The original JANE EYRE is so incredible why would anyone WANT to write a modern one? And if all the changes suggested here were made in a modern retelling it pretty much wouldn't BE Jane Eyre any longer. So if anyone has a hankering - just write a new book and take your inspiration from the original! But don't call it Jane Eyre.

And I just have to say that the movie picture you put up on this post is the most perfect imagining of Jane Eyre ever done on screen. I LOVED, LOVE, LOVED IT! The characters, the setting, the screenplay. Practically perfection. I own it and give away copies . . .

Jenn Hubbard

I just spoke to someone last weekend who loved this book, and I haven't read it myself, so I won't really address the book specifically here.

But the issues you raise are very interesting in a general way for retellings. Authors can ask themselves:
How much do you stick to the original plot?
If the reasons that things happened in the original plot have become obsolete, can you find new, up-to-date motivations for those plot elements? Or should you not even try--should you let the plot then go in a different direction?
And how important is plot, anyway, compared to theme? Should you try to be true to the original theme and play looser with the plot?

I just heard from someone else who loved it and I can certainly see some appealing bits in there (come on - who doesn't want to be happily ever after with a rock star?!). I really think she might have done better here with a book inspired by JANE EYRE rather than a retelling - that would have found another reason for the wife to be secreted away, him still to be married, the whole big secret, etc etc. Is schizophrenia really something to keep secret in the 21st century, after all? Plus the whole strange turn at the end with the second proposal and trip to Haiti. That really came out of left field for this book - it's only there because the original demands a second proposal. This Jane might have been better served between being on her own and going back to Nico and not having a forced choice between two men. (When really - there is completely no choice here at all.)

The biggest hurdle is the nonexistent class difference....without it, JANE really needed something else and I couldn't find it. (Maybe if I read this book without knowing it was a retelling, I wouldn't have missed it so much?)

I think there are still class differences but they are not as big a deal anymore. I guess it could work. It reminds me of those tiresome movies where rich boy falls in love with poor girl (or vice versa) but they can't be together because of poor girl's pride and rich boy's family. good grief.

And I just read this praiseworthy review http://angieville.blogspot.com/2010/08/jane-by-april-lindner.html so now I'm thinking I may need to read it since opinions vary so greatly.

Yep, Angie emailed that she loved the book and I can see from the review that she really fell hard for this one and that's great - I'm glad it was a good read for her (and others).

For me though...it just had too many holes. I kept wondering why she didn't try to stay in college (I worked my way through taking just a class or two when I could afford them), why she didn't battle for her inheritance (why on earth she even helped her slimy brother I'll never know) and it was just too.....well, too 19th century drama for a 21st century book. What's really odd is that I detected no heat between the main characters at all - it seemed forced to me on every level yet Angie picked up on that big time.

Which just goes to show ya that we all read book differently, don't we?!

Interesting. I so wanted this book to be really great, but I see your points. That is really hard to consider Jane in our day, as she let a lot slide for Mr. Rochester's sake. We all wanted her to throttle many a character throughout her life, right?

I still might give this one a chance, even if just a couple of chapters to see. I'm kind of a sucker for these remakes and modernizations. Their differences can be painful at times, since they don't quite fit in our time period, but I'll give it a shot.

Remember, Rebecca is often described as a 20th (not 21st) Century take on Jane Eyre, and it works marvelously in its own twisted way. But Dumaurier wasn't following the story to the letter. For instance, while Jane is incredibly strong, the second Mrs. Dewinter is incredibly weak. When Jane learns Rochester's secret, she walks away from him in moral outrage. When Mrs. Dewinter learns her husband's secret, she's actually delighted and helps him cover up. It's an interesting way to use one book as a springboard for the other. So I think it is possible that someone could do something with this material. They just have to really understand that Jane Eyre is a whole lot more than a romance.

By the way, your image at the top of this post--I loved that version of Jane Eyre.

oooh - excellent, Gail! I had totally spaced on REBECCA and you are right..maybe there is just too much focus here (as I read it) on the romance and that's why JANE didn't work for me?

I look forward to your thought on it, Becky.

Excellent analysis of your reaction, Colleen. I really think this one's going to make a direct hit with some readers and fall flat with others--for the reasons you state. Not much room for middle ground.

I did fall for it hard when, honestly, I was kind of expecting to react the way you did. I've been musing on why that was and why the translation to the present day didn't grate on me. While I truly love the original, I actually found the slightly dialed down broodiness level of this retelling refreshing. This may be in the wake of the paranormal rage right now, but this one felt quiet and mature and NOT INSANE in many ways. I realize that sounds odd what with the whole schizophrenic in the attic thing, but there it is.

It just comes down to personal taste, I guess. The writing pleased me, the updates entertained me, and the two main characters inspired sympathy and affection in me. And that's really such an individual thing that I will enjoy reading each review of JANE as they pop up to see how it sits with each different reader.

It's very interesting to see the different takes on it, Angie - and the reasons why it is loved or not. I am also intrigued by the notion of perhaps taking apart JANE EYRE and only using bits and pieces for an update. Not to get all spoilery (although we likely crossed that bridge ages ago) but did the section with the coffee shop friends and going to Haiti work for you? That really slowed it all down for me - I kept wondering where the hell Nico was and it was kind of hard to believe that someone that rich wouldn't find Jane or that Jane would stay that removed the news (especially as she professed to love Nico's daughter). It seemed like that section in particular was forced to fit the JANE mythos. What did you think?

One more thought on the topic of modern retellings - I still haven't read The Three Weissmanns of Westport, but the reviews have been fabulous, and we've sold a bunch at my store. And it's a retelling of Sense & Sensability, but done in a way that (apparently) makes it totally plausible in a modern context.

Wonder if anyone on this thread has read it and can go into more detail.

Wait, in this version Mrs. Rochester is still schizophrenic? And she's schizophrenic because she did some bad drugs?! What is this, a 1970s PSA about angel dust? If that's true, that's some weirdly negative messaging about mental illness and some ridiculous scare messaging about drug use.

I dunno, I never got on-board the Jane Eyre bandwagon. Having a literal crazy woman up in the attic "for her own good, I swear it's because I love her!" then awkwardly followed up by "I'm blind and hand-less now, but we can still be together if you don't think I'm too creepy!" ... that just never did it for me and was a little too problematic for me. So I have no interest in reading a modern re-telling of a story I think is too full of problems in the first place.

Angie, in the book, the argument is that drug use helped trigger a pre-existing type condition, which is consistent with some medical reports. http://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/tc/schizophrenia-what-increases-your-risk

It was similar to last year's BREATHLESS, which also linked the two (and, I think, had some resources at the end).

Post a comment