2012 Challenges, Books

Book 94: Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheila Kohler

I purchased this novel back in September at the Border’s going out of business sale and I’m glad I did, even if it was a whim purchase that I didn’t need at the time. Although the novel wasn’t what I expected, it was a quick read and served its purpose of tiding me over for a week until I could pick up my Books into Movies book group book (Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man) from a friend. This book serves as the third book I’ve read for the Mount TBR 2012 Reading Challenge.

I did have some issues with the novel, but it was very well written (I’d go so far as to say over-written at some points). But looking back, I think part of the problem was my perception, the fact that I enjoyed the idea of the novel itself more-so than the execution and actual novel. I’m thinking back to Becoming Jane, the film starring Anne Hahaway – I haven’t read the novel but will at some point, where I enjoyed the concept of characters and authors merging.

Becoming Jane Eyre is a historical fictionalization of the writing of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It pulls from the various biographies and letters of the Brontë’s and then fills in the empty spaces. Without knowing more about the Brontë family, I can’t comment on the truth of the personalities and the actions within the book, but I can say that Kohler created characters that both annoyed me and at times impressed me. However, saying this (and realizing how negative the review comes across) I’ve realized that Kohler is a beautiful writer. She has a way with words that can truly move a reader. I don’t have the quotes in this version but I will include them at a later date. Her descriptions of minute actions like Charlotte lifting a page up closer to read it, or the excitement of Anne and Charlotte visiting London were well written and moving.

There were a handful of characters throughout the entire novel and I appreciated the simplicity of this having read the first two Song of Ice and Fire books with their daunting character lists. However, this also gave me more time to become annoyed with the characters. Both Branwell and Patrick annoyed me the most. I understand Kohler’s attempts at creating strong female characters and in this case basing them off strong female authors, but did she really need to drop both Branwell and Patrick into such caricatures of an ailing father/widower and only son? She did this as well occasionally with the sisters in forcing them across as petty and almost vindictive when it came to publishing their novels.

As for the setting of the novels, I’m not sure how different North Yorkshire is from West Yorkshire (other than it being more rural and having greater open spaces), but it was hard to believe Kohler spent any significant amount of time there. I mean with three authors who put so much importance into place and space and the environment that was the one thing I felt was lacking. There were occasional references, but even they were somewhat ho-hum as they felt stereotypical and not original.

Recommendation: Give it a chance. Whether you like historical fiction or any of the Brontë’s writing it’s a good read. I may re-read it in a few months to see if I find the characters less offensive as it could just be a mood I’m in now. It definitely provided a great snapshot of the years surrounding Charlotte Brontë’s meteoric rise to fame as an author.

Opening Line: “He wakes to the scratching of a pencil against a page: a noise out of the darkness.”

Closing Line: “He will lie awake in the dark and strain to hear the sound of their voices, or even the thump of Flossy’s tail on the stone floor. He will think he hears the sound of a pencil scratching.” (Whited out.)

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