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.