May 15 2017

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Reader, I devoured this book on my road trip to visit my in-laws over Mother’s Day weekend. It is, as the author admits, something of a ridiculous novel: a contemporary of Jane Eyre’s contemplates the similarities between their lives even as she herself, the titular Jane Steele, solves problems by means of murder, and finds herself involved in conspiracies involving the East India Company and expatriate Sikhs in England. But it is this sense of absurdity that carries the goings-on agilely forward, making for a deeply satisfying, entertaining novel.

Essentially: Jane Steele is a friendless orphan who is sent away to a dreadful boarding school from which she escapes with her best friend to brave the seamy underbelly of London. Upon separation from her dear friend, she ekes out a living till a notice of position for governess in her childhood home crosses her path. Compelled by curiosity and a sense of proprietorship, she applies, and finds herself welcomed and absorbed into a (curious for its era) household that is far more Punjabi than English. Oh, and she kills a bunch of people along the way.

But Jane isn’t a sociopath. In many respects — and I hope this isn’t too, too much of a spoiler — murder is the only option she has as a young woman in a society that grants little social and legal power, much less redress, to those of her sex. This novel is, essentially, a feminist, globalist, revisionist fantasy loosely based on Jane Eyre. There’s also a very solid murder mystery in it, and while I did have reservations as to the presentation of the identity of the killer I do think that, overall, Lyndsay Faye was respectful of the culture, history and religion of Sikhism. I certainly learned much more of it, and I already have Sikh friends.

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