To expend some of my energy, I wandered the grounds and saw, for the first time, the wreck of the chestnut tree. It was black and split down the center. The two halves clung to each other, the firm base and strong roots keeping them upright. But the tree was clearly dead; one good storm would knock it over. For now, though, they formed one tree — a ruin, but an entire ruin.
I read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre three times between high school and undergrad. THREE. Not because I wanted to, but because it was required reading. Truthfully, though, I much preferred it to Wuthering Heights, so, you take what you can get.
The point is: when I found out that April Lindner wrote Jane, a retelling of Jane Eyre, (nerd alert!) I was immediately intrigued. The premise is relatively simple: What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?
Lindner obviously respects the original novel. She makes sure to hit all the major points of the book (even managing to get in a nod at the red room). Jane is still an orphan, still all alone in the world, still detached and removed. And, of course, Jane still manages to fall for Mr. Rathburn, her much older and experienced employer.
Ultimately, though, the downfall of the novel is how little Lindner is willing to play with the narrative. Reading Jane felt JUST LIKE reading Jane Eyre, in terms of plot and tone. In any retelling, I expect the author to hit on the major points of the narrative, but I do not want to feel like I might as well be reading the original — which is how I felt reading Jane. Although, to be fair, Lindner’s Jane feels slightly less plucky than Brontë’s.
I really wanted to like this book, but somewhere around the middle, I found myself reading just to see it through to the end. (I did, after all, need to find out if Lindner ended with “Reader, I married him.”)
I admire Lindner’s ambitious undertaking. Jane Eyre is freaking long and not entirely conducive to modernity, which is why I was excited to see a retelling of it. I just wish Lindner had been a little less faithful to the original by playing around with the narrative and the characters.
I feel like by saying that I should give some examples of retellings that do what I’m talking about, so:
- The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
- Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (movie), a retelling of Sleeping Beauty
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, retelling of Cinderella
- Bride and Prejudice (movie), retelling of Pride & Prejudice
- Wuthering High and the Bard Academy novels by Cara Lockwood, retelling of Wuthering Heights and many other classics
What are some other successful retellings that play around with the originals? Let me know in the comments!
Off the shelf: 3/30